Month: May 2020

Compulsory wearing of face masks in public places

Since 1 May 2020, it has been law that a cloth face mask, homemade item or other item which covers the nose and mouth of its wearer must be worn in public, when entering buildings or premises, or while travelling in public transport. It has also been law that all employees of businesses who may come into contact with members of the public must be provided with such a mask or covering by their employer.

While it is law that such coverings must be worn, some people appear to be ignoring this requirement. Because no offences for failing to do so have been defined in the regulations, strictly speaking, no-one may lawfully be arrested or prosecuted for such failure. A law enforcement official may however instruct a non-compliant person to either put on such a covering in his or her presence or go home. Failure to do so would constitute the offence of failing to comply with the instructions of a law enforcement official, which is an offence.

The absence of prescribed offences (lacuna) in the law should not be seen as an excuse to not wear coverings. The idea behind everyone wearing some form of protective gear is to mitigate the risks of spreading of COVID-19. It is both foolish and inconsiderate not to wear an appropriate face mask or covering. Simply put, the intended purpose is: “I protect you from me – you protect me from you,” and has been used to great effect in some other countries.

People should however be careful when buying face masks. Because homemade and makeshift face coverings are not subject to any standards, specifications or regulations, anyone can make and sell them.

We have recently learned that some entrepreneurs have taken to selling fabric masks at such places taxi ranks and allowing potential buyers to try them on before purchasing. This practice is extremely dangerous and defeats the entire purpose of wearing a face mask. Common sense dictates that if a person who tries a facemask on unknowingly has COVID-19 and hands it back to the seller to sell it to someone else, the virus can easily be spread.

To download Government Gazette 43258 of 30 April 2020, please click here. The applicable regulations are regulations 5 and 14 and their sub-regulations.