Call to stop mask exempt bullying

Danielle Sullivan wants people to stop and think before judging someone for not wearing a mask. Photo: John Borren.

A Tauranga woman who has been abused for not wearing a mask is asking people to be more understanding.

Danielle Sullivan has a mask exemption for respiratory reasons, but claims she has faced verbal abuse and bullying from members of the public and shop employees.

In a recent trip to her local store, she was called a “fraud” and a “liar” by a staff member despite producing her mask exemption paperwork.

On another trip to the supermarket Danielle, who is Māori, was also subject to racist remarks.

An elderly couple were staring at her so she asked if they were okay or if they had something to say.

“He then said to me ‘it’s people like you that are going to make us sick because you’re not wearing a mask,” says Danielle.

She explained about her mask exemption but was then told “it’s brown people like you who are getting the rest of the country sick”.

During level four Danielle wouldn’t go out because the abuse increased her anxiety, so she relied on deliveries for groceries.

“I just stopped going out altogether,” she says.

“I couldn't handle going out because of the fact that people were so nasty.”

The single mum says it is upsetting for her children to see and hear such abuse.

“How am I supposed to explain to a six-year-old why her mother is being verbally abused or yelled at in a store?”

Danielle wants people to be kind and understanding rather than making judgements.

“If you have something to say that’s not going to be positive, then keep that opinion silent,” she says.

“To take it out on the person not wearing a mask, you're actually doing more damage than good.

“Every single individual should be doing what they need to, to protect themselves. They shouldn’t be worrying about other people.”

Danielle applauds Pak ‘n Save in Tauriko because they have stickers for people with mask exemptions that read: “Please be kind, I am exempt from wearing a mask.”

“For the first time since we’ve been in lockdown, I felt normal when shopping,” she says

“I was able to walk into the shop with no questions asked and no-one looking at me weird.

“That really picked my spirits up. Things like that make a difference.”

She says this is something other supermarkets and retailers could do as well.

Mask exemption cards from the Ministry of Health are available to people who have a health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

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