Leukaemia patient wearing medical face mask almost fined under Austria's ‘burka ban’

Doctors told a man to wear a medical face mask to protect his immune system, which had been weakened by chemotherapy, but police initially said he was breaking the law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 4:16am

A leukaemia patient wearing a medical face mask in Vienna was stopped under a ban on the full Islamic veil and other face-coverings imposed last year, police admitted on Monday.

The 26-year-old man, interviewed by the Vice News Austrian website and identified only as “Valentin”, said he was stopped last Tuesday.

Doctors had told him to wear his mask to protect his immune system, which had been so severely weakened by an intensive course of chemotherapy and other treatment that he initially had to spend eight weeks in isolation.

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“The first thing they asked me was whether I spoke German or whether I was foreign,” Valentin told Vice News, which specialises in stories that might not get mainstream media attention. “When I explained that I was from Vienna, things calmed down a bit. But then they went after my face mask.” 

The police explained to him that he was contravening the law, which carries an 80 euro (US$98) fine.

“I had asked my doctor about exactly this. But at the time he just laughed and said it would be obvious to anyone why I was wearing it”.           

He proceeded to show the police his medication and searched for his blood test results on his phone.

“The whole thing was quite a stressful experience, but in the end they believed me,” Valentin said.

He was warned that next time he would need a doctor’s certificate or would face a fine.

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Police spokesman Patrick Maierhofer admitted that the man was stopped and said “the matter was sorted out after a short conversation”.

“Covering your face for medical reasons is an exception. In such cases the police must be given credible proof that it is being worn for medical reasons,” Maierhofer told the APA agency.

The law, which took effect on October 1, bans the full Islamic veil, known as the burka or the niqab, in public places.

But to avoid being sued for discrimination, the government also outlawed any item of clothing that covers the face.