Executive extends grace period for those not wearing a mask on medical grounds
A letter from First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, circulated among MLA’s today (Wednesday 5 January), confirms that the grace period has been extended for those who do not wear a face covering on the basis of medical exemption, and who must provide proof of such under new legislation.
A previous update to legislation 27 December 2021 was reflected on the NI Direct website that states:
“Since 27 December 2021, an individual who is exempt from the requirement to wear a face covering must be able to prove this to a relevant person, such as a police or enforcement officer.”
However a grace period was agreed up to 7 January, before the legislation change could be implemented.
TUV Party Leader and MLA for North Antrim, Jim Allister, only yesterday (Tuesday 4 December) said he had planned to table a question in the Assembly to seek clarification around the issue. Mr Allister said:
“I have also been clear that there is an onus on the powers that be to devise and enforce laws which are rational, necessary, easy to explain to the public and proportionate. The change of onus in the rules on exemption from wearing a face covering fails to meet this test.
“I have been contacted by many members of the public who have legitimate reasons for not wearing a face covering who are now finding this difficult to prove.”
The extension of the grace period announced today was made ‘I n light of the need to give further detailed consideration to the logistical issues involved in obtaining proof of exemption’.
The letter sent to the Assembly Speaker, Alex Maskey MLA stated:
“Further to our statement of 22 December 2021, we are writing to provide you and MLAs with an update on the issue of exemption from wearing a face covering.
“As the Assembly was previously advised, the Executive decided on 22 December to remove the exemption from wearing a face covering on the grounds that it causes severe stress; and to place on the individual the onus of proving an exemption on medical grounds. A grace period until 7 January before enforcement is implemented
was also agreed.
“In light of the need to give further detailed consideration to the logistical issues involved in obtaining proof of exemption, the Executive has now also decided to extend this grace period to a date to be further determined and to remit the Executive's Covid Taskforce to undertake further meetings with stakeholders.
“This matter will be discussed again at the Executive meeting scheduled for 6 January.”