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A month ago, the Minister of Health assured us that face masks do not protect against the coronavirus infection. Now the Ministry has changed its mind. The Polish government is not alone in this volte-face - the World Health Organization also changed its opinion on this matter. From Thursday, covering your mouth and nose every time you leave the house will be mandatory.

Using face masks necessary also in parks and forests

Although the Minister announced the new obligation last Thursday, the bill on covering the mouth and nose is to be released on Wednesday. Its draft was made public on Tuesday. It says: "From April 16, 2020, until further notice, an obligation to cover mouth and nose with a piece of clothing, a visor or a face mask is imposed."

The mouth and nose are to be covered in all means of public transport and cars in which people who do not share a household commute together, in all public places, including streets, roads and squares, churches, shops and marketplaces, as well as in green areas, "in particular: in parks, promenades, boulevards, botanical, zoological, and historic gardens, as well as on beaches" and "in forest areas, in particular: in forest car parks, vehicle parking spaces, small forest infrastructure and camping sites. "

The act states that we must also wear face masks in the place which are currently closed for public access, such as parks and forests. Is this meant to foreshadow lifting of these bans, which many specialists have found absurd? We asked the Ministry of Health about this, but we did not obtain any reply. 

What to do at work, in the church and during a meeting with the police

The provision on the obligation to cover the nose and mouth will apply to both pedestrians and cyclists. It will not apply to people in private cars driving them alone or with a person with whom the driver shares an apartment (provided that it is a car designed to transport less than nine people including the driver). The order will also not apply to children up to the age of two and people who are unable to cover their mouth or nose due to breathing difficulties or people with disabilities, i.e. unable to do so alone.

In the event that the police or "other authorized bodies" stops us and we have to identify ourselves, the officer may request us to uncover our mouth and nose to prove our identity.

Masks will not be mandatory in the workplace, unless such regulations are introduced by the employer. However, they will be obligatory for everyone working outside. - It's illogical. It is always easier to get infected in a closed area than in the open air - comments an epidemiologist.

The Ministry of Health does not specify whether, for example, priests will have to wear masks when celebrating mass. In many churches they are still held for the few believers. What about people who receive Holy Communion? Will they be able to remove the mask for a few minutes?

However, surgical masks will not be required in public places. - I recommend covering your mouth and nose with scarves, handkerchiefs, cotton masks. Let us leave these surgical equipments to medical service - said Szumowski.

The trouble is that first of all, in clinics and hospitals, such protection is not enough. Secondly, it is already getting warmer every day and soon enough wearing a scarf covering your mouth and nose will be almost impossible. In the end, a mask will be the least onerous way to cover your face.

Higher penalty than for quarantine violation

The most shocking element of the bill, however, concerns the means of punishment. A policeman will be able to give us a fine of PLN 500 for uncovering the mouth and nose. However, if a officer decides to refer the matter to a sanitary inspector to initiate administrative proceedings against us, the penalty will be as much as for entering a park or forest, i.e. a minimum of 10 000. PLN, maximum 30 000 PLN.

The penalty for violating the quarantine is between 5 000 - 30 000 PLN. Sanitary workers indicate that it is absurd, because the quarantine violation should be treated more harshly. Why it is not so? We have not received an answer to this question either.

Lawyers advise not to dispute with the police and accept a fine for the violation. After that we can appeal the decision and the court will consider whether we really deserved the punishment. On the other hand, if we argue, we run the risk of police bringing the case to a sanitary department. If a police officer decides to initiate administrative proceedings and imposes a penalty, this decision is immediately enforceable. It means that the money will be taken straight away. The chances of getting it back will be slim. An administrative court is only allowed to rule on whether a sanitary officer followed the procedures correctly.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

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