News

Elderly man abused at Echuca supermarket for not wearing mask

By Ivy Jensen

ECHUCA residents are being reminded face masks are exempt for some people after an elderly man was attacked in a supermarket at the weekend.

The man, who has cancer and is not required to wear a face mask for medical reasons, went into Echuca Coles on Saturday where he was verbally abused, threatened and hit in the back of the legs with a trolley by another man.

“How dare you think it is okay to push a man who cannot physically wear a mask, let alone make the statement ‘I should knock your block off’,” a family member wrote on a Facebook post about the incident.

“It’s absolutely disgusting behaviour by a so-called adult. You’d think any individual would feel safe enough to go grocery shopping without being attacked.”

Another family member told the Riv the man, who is missing an ear and has facial scarring, didn’t want to make any fuss as he had already been through so much.

“He can’t do a lot now. He shops for me to help me and feels proud he can do this chore on his own,” she said.

The ugly scene was witnessed by many people who took out their anger on social media.

“It was sad to see a physical altercation in Coles in Echuca because a gentleman wasn't wearing a mask,” one woman said.

“He has medical reasons and letters from his doctor to say he can't. He only had one ear and a lot of facial scaring but someone decided all of that wasn't good enough. The poor gentleman left the store very upset.

“Please be respectful of people. Some people have disabilities you can't see, but that doesn't mean they don’t exist, nor does it give you the right to abuse these people.”

Another woman said: “I spoke to this gentleman afterwards to make sure he was ok. He was not ok. He said he will not shop anymore”.

“I was in an aisle across and heard this too, … the threats he made to the man not wearing a mask were horrible. People need to start worrying about themselves and mind their own business,” another shopper said.

Several other people commented on the Facebook post saying they had also been subject to abuse when not wearing a mask, despite having an exemption.

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh is urging people to be aware some in their communities, for a number of reasons, have been exempted from wearing face masks.

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said he was even aware of a young woman from Echuca moving interstate because she did not want to keep explaining her exemption every time she left her home.

“At our office, we have come across cases ranging from medical conditions to psychological reasons,” Mr Walsh said.

“Our communities are noted for their inclusiveness and the last thing we need right now is negative reactions aimed at people for all the wrong reasons.

“Remember, we really are all in this together and the best way forward is to keep helping each other and keeping our sense of care and compassion for family, friends and neighbours.”

A Coles spokesperson said the company did not tolerate abuse or disrespect towards team members or other customers in its stores.

“We were disappointed to hear about a customer’s experience in our Echuca store over the weekend,” she said.

“We take these matters seriously and as soon as our team was made aware, they went to check on the customer, who was able to complete his shopping.

“We ask that people in our stores continue to treat our team members and other customers with respect as we work hard to provide a safe shopping experience.”

In line with the latest government health advice, customers with a lawful reason for not wearing a face covering are not required to wear a mask.

Phil Masters from Echuca’s Trophyman Giftware and Engraving said he would provide anyone who was exempt from wearing a face mask with an explanatory badge free of charge.

‘‘All they need to do is come into my shop, show me their medical exemption and I will make them a badge for free,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m sick of wearing of hearing about people like this man being abused and ridiculed.

‘‘I want to do something so this doesn’t happen to anyone else. I’ve already sold 3000 ear savers (for face masks) in four days so this is my way of giving back.’’

Trophyman is at 1/55 McMillan Rd, Echuca, phone 5482 3892 or visit trophyman.com.au

A list of exemptions, including people affected by a relevant medical condition, such as breathing problems, a serious facial skin condition, disability or mental health condition, as well as those communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, is available at dhhs.vic.gov.au/face-coverings-covid-19

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