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A cyclist wearing a face mask to help protect against the spread of COVID-19 rides along Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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If a child over the age of eight is found to be out in public alone without a face mask, they can be charged $1,000 in the first instance under the new Public Health Ordinance which was passed in the Senate on Saturday came into effect yesterday.

If that child is accompanied by an adult, whether a parent or guardian, the adult will face the fine for the breach of the updated Public Health Guidelines that have made mask-wearing in public mandatory.

This was the word from Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, who said while the law, which came into effect early Monday, does not allow for children under eight to be prosecuted, parents/guardian are still advised to encourage younger children to mask up. He said the legislation allows for a mask, a face covering or a face shield that covers the nose, mouth and the chin.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media briefing, the AG said, “Everybody would know by now that we have a Children’s Court, so if your child is on his/her own and without a mask, your child can be fined via the fixed penalty notice position, you will go to the Children’s Court… and you will find yourself before the court to pay the penalty or in the court pay system … If you are in the company of your child, you are a person with responsibility for this child, you are a parent, guardian, et cetera, you can be an uncle carrying the child out, you can be exposed to the fines yourself.”

At the time of the press conference, Al-Rawi said there was a copy of the regulations that were published earlier in the day with an error stating the minimum age for mask-wearing was five years. But he said the law recognises that children under eight are not capable of having criminal intent and the correct age required by law was eight and above.

Addressing widespread public criticism over statements made by his colleague, National Security Minister Stuart Young at a press conference on Saturday, that families in their personal vehicles will be required to wear masks or face being charged, Al-Rawi said the Government recognised that ‘PH’ taxis are now a part of T&T society and had created the legislation with this in mind.

“Members of the public have quite correctly said, listen this makes very little sense that we are at home, all of us together, it’s a husband, wife and children or relatives who live together who get into a vehicle, why should we have to wear a mask among ourselves,” he said.

“Please permit me Trinidad and Tobago, this is because we are Trinidad and Tobago, we have in Trinidad and Tobago a system called the ‘PH’ system that is a large part of our structured society, it is something that has existed alongside an official transportation system. And recognising Trinidad as we must, it would be extremely difficult for law enforcement to know which private vehicle, any ‘P’ registration vehicle, was one which was for hire and one which was not for hire.”

He said the ‘PH’ industry is large and thriving and would present significant issues for police officers trying to enforce the legislation.

He said while a lone driver of a vehicle was allowed not to wear a mask, once there was more than one passenger in a vehicle,, even private ones, they would all have to wear masks.

Al-Rawi said in addition to all vehicles, the legislation also includes provisions for the wearing masks on all vessels.

“So please understand that this is a feature of Trinidad and Tobago’s recognised society and therefore the only exception for being in a vehicle or a vessel is for if you are by yourself,” he said.

Al-Rawi said the T&T Police Service had been asked to ‘acclimatise’ the citizenry about the new regulations while they (police) await the fixed penalty notices from the Government printer.

“In the day that it will take to distribute these things, we have asked that the T&T Police Service engage in an exercise very similar to that which we did in the launch of the demerit point system. You recall in the Demerit Point System we used a day or two, it was actually a bit long, but in this case, we will go for a day or two to acclimatise the population to being stopped to say you are in the circumstance of breaking the law and oblige you to come forward and comply.”

He said, however, the law is still applicable as it was passed in the Senate on Saturday.

Al-Rawi said all citizens, including law enforcement officers, are obligated to wear masks.

BOX

What the law says:

If you are caught breaching the mask-wearing regulation in the amended Public Health Regulations without good reason, you will be fined $1,000 in the first instance, $2,000 in the second instance and $3,000 in the third instance.

Failure to pay the fines can result in an increased penalty of $5,000 and three days imprisonment.

The amendment mandating the wearing of face masks in any public space or while in a vehicle or on a vessel with more than one person includes several exemptions.

These are: (a) the person cannot put on, wear or remove a face mask, face shield or face covering–

(i) because of any physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability; or

(ii) without severe distress;

(b) the person is travelling with or providing assistance to, another person and such other person relies on lip-reading to communicate with the first person

(c) the person removes their face mask, face shield or face covering to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to himself or others;

(d) the person is travelling to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and does not have a face mask, face shield or face covering with him;

(e) if it is reasonably necessary for the person to eat or drink, the person removes his face mask, face shield or face covering to eat or drink;

(f) the person has to remove his face mask, face shield or face covering to take medication; and

(g) a request is made of the person to remove his face mask, face shield or face covering temporarily for security and identification purposes.

(5) A person who contravenes this regulation commits an offence and is liable to a fixed penalty fine set out in Schedule 1 and on failure to pay the fixed penalty may be liable on summary conviction to a fine of five thousand dollars and to a term of imprisonment of three days.