Fire and Emergency New Zealand has launched an urgent investigation into the actions of a volunteer firefighter who refused to wear a mask while trying to enter a Katikati supermarket.
A video published online shows a man wearing a Fire and Emergency jacket being refused entry to Countdown for not wearing a face mask. The man has been identified as Gerry Carey.
Carey, who appears to be filming the ordeal, captures two police officers and supermarket staff members manning the door on the video.
He can be heard asking the masked police officer: “Are you telling me that I need to show you my exemption which is between me and my doctor”?
The officer nods in response.
The police officer can be heard telling the man that Countdown staff “have the right” to exclude him from entering the store.
“No that is actually discrimination,” Carey replies.
Carey is then encouraged by the officer to move away from the supermarket entrance.
After refusing to move, he asks for the names of the Countdown staff members at the door.
“What you are doing here is committing a crime, you are preventing me from getting food,” he tells the officer.
The volunteer firefighter says he will be taking the matter further.
At the end of the video, Carey films himself, saying: “I told them I had an exemption, they wanted to see it. It is between me and my doctor.”
The Bay of Plenty Times has tried to contact Carey.
Fire and Emergency confirmed the man in the video was a volunteer firefighter but would not confirm his name.
Area manager Kevin Cowper said the organisation was investigating the incident “with urgency” and would take whatever action was “deemed appropriate”.
“We support the work police do as our emergency partners, and take the Covid-19 instructions of central government very seriously,” he said.
A police spokesperson said police would take an “education-first” approach on mask-wearing requirements at supermarkets and pharmacies.
“This means encouraging people to do the right thing for themselves, their whānau, friends and their community.”
However, they said enforcement action would be taken where necessary.
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Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said he had not seen the video and did not intend to watch it.
“It’s not the sort of thing I should comment on under these circumstances,” he said.
“We are in difficult times, and we just have to work our way through what each of us thinks is the right thing to do and leave it to the authorities to manage the situation.”
Western Bay of Plenty Katikati-Waihī Beach ward councillor James Denyer said, in his view,the confrontation was unnecessary and “put store employees, the police and other customers at risk”.
“Private businesses have every right to refuse entry to their premises. There are also groups in Katikati ready and willing to deliver food to our most vulnerable,” he said.
Denyer encouraged people to follow the requirements of wearing a mask when accessing essential services in alert level 4.
When approached for comment, Countdown directed the Bay of Plenty Times to its mask policy.
“If customers become aggressive and refuse to wear a mask, the advice from the NZ Police is that our supermarket team members should not enforce this as it is simply too dangerous,” it read.
“We strongly hope that all New Zealanders will do the right thing and wear masks so that our team aren’t put in this position.”
The Ministry of Health website states the use of face coverings was mandatory for all employees and customers at businesses and services that are open to the public at alert level 4.
This included supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, hospitals and healthcare facilities.
It said that current exemptions for face coverings include for people aged under 12 or with illness, conditions or disabilities that make wearing them unsuitable.
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