Police officers look on as a man walks past them without a face mask on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

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Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi is appealing to citizens to stop their “smart man-ism” over the new law which makes it mandatory to wear face masks in public to protect against the spread of COVID-19 virus.

He made the call during yesterday’s Ministry of Health virtual press conference, as he said citizens were now finding many excuses about why the mandatory mask-wearing regulation, which came into effect on Monday, should not apply to them. He said, however, that the regulations surrounding the new policy is grounded in already existing laws in the country.

“This is not a time for smart man-ism or smart woman-ism. It’s not a time for you to be as novel as you can be in every exception as to why the law ought not to apply to you. We do not have the liberty of protecting our society without cooperation,” he said as he sought to address commentaries and criticisms in the public domain on the new policy.

A number of citizens have taken to social media to voice their criticism over two elements of the regulation since it became law.

The major bone of contention is the section which allows police officers to charge children eight years and over for not wearing their masks in public—which carries a fine of $1,000 for the first offence, $2,000 for the second and fines up to a maximum $20,000 for the most serious breaches. Citizens are also taking issue with the mandate for masks to be worn by every occupant in a vehicle once that numbers more than one person, even if it’s family members who live in the same household.

Yesterday, Al-Rawi once again explained that the latter mandate was created because of the prevalence of “PH” taxi drivers and the difficulty for law enforcement officers to verify that the occupants of any vehicle were family members residing under one roof.

The Attorney General explained that Cabinet referenced similar legislation from around the world in creating the new legislation, noting that many other jurisdictions not only also had charges against children but had harsher reprimands for breaches.

He dismissed several criticisms about children over the age of eight receiving fines for breaches. He said the regulation operated within the parameters and in cohesion with existing laws. For instance, he said the Children’s Act dictates that it is the parent or guardian of the child who would be liable to pay the fine.

“Sections 56 and 57 of the Children’s Act specifically provide that where a child is charged with any offence which is treatable by a fine or damages or cost, that the parent, guardian or person with responsibility is the person who the court would look to for the payment of the fine,” Al-Rawi explained.

“Avoid the smart man-ism and smart woman-ism. Just wear your mask. Encourage people around you politely to put on their mask and let’s get on to getting back to work and getting back to livelihood.”