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LAWYER PUNCHES LEGAL HOLES IN FACE MASKS

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MBABANE – Do police officers have the power to arrest people who are not wearing masks in public?
This seems to be an ongoing debate among many people regarding the police officers’ approach of threatening to arrest those who are not wearing masks.


Others have decried the fact that they felt harassed by the security personnel who questioned them on why they were not wearing masks even when driving alone in their personal vehicles.


“This is ridiculous. I’m alone in my car and the security personnel want to arrest me for not wearing a mask, why? Yes, the minute the officer starts speaking to me, then I can put it on,” said a motorist. Some quarters of society felt that it was illegal for government to force people to wear masks, in particular the cloth ones, as this was not provided for in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020.


Banks


This follows that several institutions  as well, including banks, some supermarkets and other places operating under the essential services were now refusing people not wearing masks entry into their establishments.
To this, the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Themba Masuku has some harsh words for those refusing to wear the masks, ‘Just wear the masks’.


The DPM said it was disheartening that some people wanted to challenge the government on this.
“They will challenge us from their caskets because we are doing this to protect them and save their lives, but they insist on not adhering to government instructions,” said Masuku.


The current regulations make no mention of people being forced to wear cloth masks but this was a guideline implemented by both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for people particularly those using public transport.
It should be noted, however, that Section 32 (2) of the guidelines states that the prime minister or a minister may vary the guidelines issued in terms of these regulations when the need arises.


The DPM said government could not be every now and again be going to amend the regulations in Parliament, especially since the pandemic was complex and evolved every day with new discoveries being made.


The DPM said it was upsetting that while government was doing all it could to protect people, others just wanted to be rigid and get infected with the virus or transmit it to others.
He said government would be around for a long time and that people should protect themselves instead of wanting to fight everything which government said.


A lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said government could be challenged against the enforcement of wearing cloth masks as it was not regulated.  He insisted that government should amend the regulations before it implemented them.
However, the police have stated that they were within their rights to ensure that emaSwati or citizens wear masks.


Deputy Police Information and Communications Officer Inspector Nosipho Mnguni said as an enforcing agent, government had stated that people were now required to wear masks as part of the guidelines to fight COVID-19.  She said it was not in the regulations, but had been pronounced verbally. 


She, therefore said police had the right to make people pay an admission of guilt if the fine was below E5 000.
She stated that aggrieved members of the public were allowed to take the court route. It is, however, clear that people will not be receiving services if they do not have masks as some have already been asked by security officers not to enter shops without the masks.
The masks are now readily available in the country with some selling for as little as E10 each from places like SEDCO while others are selling them at E30.


Regulations


COVID-19 Regulations Schedule II titled ‘the Use of Medical Masks by the general public’ states that medical masks should not be used by healthy persons who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 as this created a false sense of security that could lead to neglecting other essential measures such as washing hands.


It was stated that erroneous use of masks or continuous use of a disposable mask of periods longer than six hours or repeated use of the same masks may actually increase the risk of getting an infection.
According to the regulations members of the public may use three-layer masks when ill to prevent infection.


The regulations further provide that the three-layer mask should be used when a person develops a cough or fever, while visiting a healthcare facility, when caring for an ill person and by close family contacts of a suspected or confirmed case undergoing home care.

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