Thousands of South Africans arrested for not wearing masks

The South African Police Service (SAPS) says that it has arrested thousands of South Africans for failing to wear masks under the country’s adjusted level 3 lockdown rules.

Data published on Monday (22 February) showed that 10,701 persons were arrested in various public spaces for not wearing a mask in KZN alone, between 29 December and 21 February.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said that the failure to wear masks, as per the regulations, remains a constant source of concern for the SAPS.

“Security forces remain especially concerned with the high number of people that are arrested on a daily basis for not wearing a mask in public spaces.

“We are appealing to people to maintain social distancing. This does not seem to be happening as hordes of people are observed congregating at shopping malls and other public spaces on a daily basis.”

Criminal offence 

Under South Africa’s current lockdown rules, it is a criminal offence to not wear a mask in a public space.

In a January interview, Police minister Bheki Cele said that when people are arrested for not wearing a mask, they are taken to a police station where they are formally charged, and have their fingerprints taken.

He added that this process will give South Africans a criminal record, something which they must be ‘very wary of’.

Under South Africa’s level 3 lockdown regulations, a ‘face mask’ means a cloth mask or a homemade item that covers the nose and mouth, or another appropriate item to cover the nose and mouth.

The wearing of a face mask is mandatory for every person when in a public place. excluding a child under the age of six years. any person who fails to comply with a verbal instruction by an enforcement officer to wear a face mask, commits an offence and is, on conviction. liable to a fine and/or a period of imprisonment not exceeding six months.

In addition, no person will be allowed to perform the following activities if they are not wearing a mask:

  • Use, operate. perform any service on any form of public transport;
  • Enter or be in a building, place or premises, including government buildings, places or premises. used by the public to obtain goods or services;
  • Be in any public open space.

Mask-wearing is improving

Despite the high number of arrests, research shows that attitudes are changing on the wearing of masks in South Africa.

The latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) published last week shows that reported mask-wearing has increased for all groups over time, irrespective of Covid-19 beliefs.

The group’s data shows what in July/August 2020 around 74% of respondents reported mask-wearing, with this number increasing to 78% in November/December.

Between July and December 2020 this increase was largest for those who think they are likely to get Covid-19.

By comparison, the data shows that reported handwashing has decreased over the same period from 60% in July/August to 53% in November/December, and physical distancing has also decreased.

The survey shows that households in townships report the lowest levels of mask-wearing in their community.

The reported community adherence to mask-wearing was highest in formal residential areas where 63% said that ‘everyone’ or ‘most people’ wore masks in public compared to 39-44% among those in Townships and Informal Settlements.

Read: South African firm to help develop Covid-19 vaccines for the rest of Africa

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Thousands of South Africans arrested for not wearing masks