Australia

Victorian GPs say mask sceptics are requesting ‘medical exemption’ letters

A cyclist is seen wearing a mask along the Yarra River in Melbourne. Source: AAP

The chair of the peak body for Australian GPs says some doctors are being asked to provide medical exemptions for people planning to defy a requirement to wear a mask in public.

General practitioners in Melbourne are being asked by patients to provide letters that exempt them from wearing masks after a number of videos of people refusing to cover their faces went viral. 

All residents in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire are currently legally required to cover their nose and mouth in public or face a $200 fine unless they are under 12 years old, are exercising, working, or if they have a medical condition that makes wearing a mask difficult.

From next week, regional Victorians will also be required to wear masks outside their home, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Thursday as the state recorded a record-breaking 732 new coronavirus cases.

Chair of the peak body for Australian general practitioners, Cameron Loy, said people were already asking general practitioners to provide them with an exemption to get out of wearing masks. But, he said, doctors are not required to issue “exemption letters” and should not feel pressured to do so.

“Most people can wear masks. There are a very small number of people who may not be able to wear masks,” he told SBS News. 

“I may be able to provide a letter that says somebody has these medical conditions, but it is not for me to adjudicate whether that is an exemption under the public health orders.”

According to Dr Loy, medical conditions that would mean someone is unable to wear a face-covering would usually be detectable to the average person, including severe breathing difficulties, serious skin conditions, and some disabilities or mental health conditions.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services currently does not require people to obtain a medical certificate to prove they have a condition.

To assist doctors when they are asked for letters, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has developed a template that states a person has a medical condition that “may preclude them from wearing a mask”. 

But some people requesting letters from their general practitioners are doing so for the wrong reasons, he said. 

Dr Loy likened the situation to the introduction of the ‘no jab, no play’ rule, when a “small number of the community” requested medical letters to get out of their obligations.

Over the weekend, a video of a woman refusing to wear a mask in a Melbourne Bunnings store went viral, sparking widespread condemnation. The woman claimed to have a medical condition, before being stopped by staff.

A number of similar videos from Melbourne have also been circulating. Earlier this week, Mr Andrews dismissed the videos, stating “their views have no basis in science, or fact or law.”

“It is not our job to adjudicate the law, or to adjudicate somebody’s conspiracy theories,” Dr Loy said. “We’re all in this together, don’t go looking for loopholes.”

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. It is also mandatory to wear masks in public. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch