Huge confusion has erupted from the blanket warnings flashed up on television screens in Portugal last night saying “fines duplicate for not wearing a mask in the street”.
Reports that followed the prime minister’s announcement of the form of the new national lockdown screamed headlines like “Not wearing a mask brings fine of up to €1000”.
Nowhere was there the full information that this rule ONLY applies when “the physical distancing recommended by health authorities proves impractical”.
In other words in all situations where people are in ‘public open space’ (the definition of the Portuguese words ‘via pública’) but able to circulate and remain at least two metres from others, they will not be obliged to be wearing a mask.
Law 62-A/2020 – approved by MPs at the end of October – made mask-wearing in public open spaces obligatory for a further three months. This is a ‘transitory law’ brought in because of the pandemic.
There are some exceptions: children under the age of 10 are “not obliged to use a mask in public open space” nor are “members of the same family unit when they are outside but not in close proximity to third parties”.
Equally exempt are people who can “present a doctor’s declaration attesting that their clinical condition or cognitive impairment does not allow the use of masks” and those who are deemed to be “carrying out an activity that is incompatible with the requirement to wear a mask”.
This latter exemption is not further explained, and thus could be open to debate.
When the law was introduced, fines applicable were set to range from €100 to €500. Under the terms of the new lockdown, these fines have now doubled, meaning they will start at €200 and could reach €1,000.
That said, there have been very few fines levied for people failing to wear masks in public open spaces.
ECO online explains that 1,500 people have been fined for not wearing masks when they should have been – for example on public transport, in shops or other closed public spaces – but only 10% of these were people failing to wear masks in open public spaces.
In other words, the headlines appearing today in the press, the constant references to fines for anyone not wearing a mask in the street, are misleading. If you are circulating in the street or any other open public space and can maintain a distance of at least two metres from others, you do not need to wear a mask.
If however a police man or woman ‘challenges’ you as you are circulating in said public open space, care should be taken to put on a mask before approaching the agent to respond.