Anti-mask activists are using Facebook to encourage protesters to skirt the Government’s rule on wearing face coverings in public by buying ‘hidden disability’ badges, the Telegraph has found.
The sunflower-themed lanyards are freely available from charities online and do not require the buyer to show any form of medical documentation proving they have a condition that exempts them from the rule.
Protesters on the Facebook group page say 'NO to masks’ are urging members who ask about how they can avoid wearing a mask to either purchase the badges online or fashion their own at home, despite many of them not claiming to have a condition.
Disability charity Scope has condemned the protesters' actions as “selfish”, warning their actions are “actively harming” disabled people and demanding that Facebook “crack down” on anti-mask groups.
James Taylor, Executive Director of Strategy Impact and Social Change told the Telegraph: “Anti-mask groups getting lanyards or exemption cards, meaning they don’t have to wear a mask, actively damages disabled people.”
“We have seen sadly from ONS death certificates that around two in three of all deaths from Covid has been amongst disabled people.”
“Facebook needs to crackdown quite hard on this behaviour, it is something I have heard happening in the States and other places around the world where you have these small groups that don’t believe this virus exists and are promoting quite selfish and unfair ways of acting.”
Current Government guidance says that those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering “should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards” and that “no person needs to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face covering.”
Instructions are also provided on the Government’s coronavirus website for those wishing to design their own exemption badge.
A spokesman from Facebook said: “We have removed posts from this group that violate our policies.
"We don’t allow harmful misinformation and we have removed seven million pieces of Covid-19 related misinformation between April and June.
"Since January, when Covid-19 was declared a public health emergency, we’ve taken aggressive steps to limit the spread of misinformation about the virus and connect people with reliable information."
Fines for those who refuse
To date, over 363 fines have been issued by Transport for London officer to people who have refused to wear a face mask since the rule was introduced in June.
Similarly, British Transport Police have enforced 72 fixed-penalty-notices.
Siwan Hayward, Director of Compliance, Policing and On Street at Transport for London (TfL), said: “We are taking firm action against the selfish minority who are not thinking about their fellow passengers by refusing to wear a face covering.
“It’s inconsiderate, unacceptable and it’s illegal. We’ve issued hundreds of fines and the ability to issue stronger penalties will persuade those more persistent offenders to do the right thing.”
Earlier this month British Transport Police pepper sprayed a rail passenger in Liverpool after he resisted arrest and refused to wear a face mask claiming he had a medical condition.
In a video of the incident widely circulated online the man is seen to be struggling with officers saying: “You're not allowed to touch me by law. I do not have to wear a mask, end of, and you do not have to challenge me. It's against the law to challenge me.”
Boris Johnson doubled the fine earlier this week from £100 to £200 for an individual who fails to wear a face mask when asked to by enforcement authorities