New mask exemption card to remove uncertainty

COVID-19 Response Disability Issues

People who have genuine reasons for not being able to wear a face mask can access a new personalised exemption card from the end of May, Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins and Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni announced today.

“We know that face masks are a crucial part of our defence against the spread of COVID-19 and using them will continue to help protect loved ones and save lives,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The new process is being introduced to make sure people who have genuine reasons for not being able to wear a mask have more certainty in being able to demonstrate that.

“For the business community, the new cards will mean evidence that a person with the new card is exempt from the requirement to wear a mask, removing uncertainty that businesses have been dealing with.

“We’ve recognised that for some people an impairment, health conditions, a physical disability or mental health reasons can mean wearing a mask isn’t possible. These reasons aren’t always obvious or easy to explain and that’s left some New Zealanders who’re genuinely unable to wear a mask not being able to access the businesses and services they normally would.

“It’s also meant uncomfortable situations, with people needing to explain private health information to strangers, when they’re trying to do basic tasks like shopping. We’ve worked hard to find a solution which avoids this.

“The new process will be administered by the Ministry of Health and allows people who can’t wear a mask to get a personalised card to help them access businesses and services where wearing a mask is required.

“The new card will also help businesses. Sadly, in attempting to verify whether people are genuinely exempt, workers – especially those in retail settings such as supermarkets – have experienced escalating and unsafe behaviour from some customers.

“This new process gives assurance that when someone presents this card, they’re genuinely exempt.   COVID-19 Orders will be amended to provide that the new card is conclusive proof that someone is exempt,” said Chris Hipkins.

The new cards will be entirely optional – but they will be legally recognised as conclusive proof of a person’s exempt status, which the old cards are not.

“We will not be cancelling the old cards or requiring affected people to go through the process of getting a new card if they don’t want to, however the old cards will not have the legitimacy of the new cards,” said Chris Hipkins.

Carmel Sepuloni said that from the end of May, people will be able to apply for a card through the Ministry of Health website and it will be issued to them digitally or by post.

“An 0800 call free number will be available, and it’ll also cater for those who need interpreter or translation services when requesting their card,” Carmel Sepuloni said. 

“I particularly want to acknowledge the work of organisations such as Blind Citizens New Zealand, the Disabled Persons Assembly, Deaf Aotearoa and other non-government organisations who have administered the mask exemption process previously. Mask wearing remains an important public health measure to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission and keep us all safe.

“It’s important we all understand that for some people wearing a face mask is difficult. This includes people with physical, intellectual or mental health impairments, and people (such as some victims of violent crime) who have experienced past trauma.  Those people should still have the same right as others to access good and services.

“This policy change promotes this important message, and also creates a new approach to accessing exemptions through the Ministry of Health.

“What’s been developed through extensive consultation is a balanced approach which is accessible for exempt people, gives businesses certainty and also makes it harder for others who might try to undermine the process,” Carmel Sepuloni said.


  • People unable to wear a mask and who already have a non-personalised exemption card issued by the Ministry of Health or the Disabled Persons Assembly, can continue using that card.
  • Both the new personalised cards and existing non-personalised cards issued by the Ministry of Health are optional as an aid to avoiding discrimination.
  • The difference is that the old cards do not have legal standing and can be questioned. The new cards will provide proof of exemption.
  • If they are questioned, the person questioning them will be at risk of triggering the duties and obligations under the Human Rights Act that protect disabled people (noting that this is defined very broadly in the Human Rights Act)
  • Both the new personalised exemption cards and existing non-personalised exemption cards from the Ministry of Health or the Disabled Persons Assembly are optional for people who are exempt as an aid to them in avoiding discrimination.
  • Exempt persons continue to have the same rights of access to businesses and services irrespective of their optional use of an exemption card.
  • The new cards should be accepted by businesses because they have clear legal status as proof of exemption.
  • Businesses continue to have a right to deny entry to people who are threatening or behaving inappropriately
  • People who fraudulently misuse the process will be in breach of a COVID-19 Order under the COVID-19 (Public Health Response) Act 2020