LONDON, ONT. -- The Middlesex-London Health Unit issued instructions on July 17 to businesses and organizations to ensure that masks are worn in enclosed public places as we enter into Stage 3.

Londoners who are not on board with the new mask policy organized an, Unmask March, on Sunday afternoon in Victoria Park, arguing that wearing masks should be voluntary and not mandatory.

“We’re here to protest the policy of the city of London, the provincial government and the federal government…We feel that they should be voluntary not mandatory. This is taking our freedoms away,” Murray Durham, a participant said.

Approximately 80 people gathered in Victoria park and marched to City Hall. The protest was peaceful and lasted about an hour.

“I am here to celebrate freedom, to speak against masks, vaccinations and contact tracing…all these things are stealing our freedom,” another participant said.

The new mask mandate went into effect Saturday morning.

It comes as the city of London plans to introduce a bylaw on Monday that will require masks in all indoor publicly accessible spaces.

The medical officer of health for Middlesex-London Health unit, Dr. Chris Mackie, spoke about the new policy to CTV News on July 17.

“We know that physical distancing is very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but as the pandemic has evolved, new evidence supporting the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces has continued to emerge,” Mackie said.

“Our community has done an amazing job to slow the pandemic to a crawl. We need to do all we can to prevent a spike in cases that could occur as most of our businesses and establishments move to Stage 3 of reopening.”

Mackie is recommending London and all municipal councils in Middlesex issue a bylaw.

Henry Balasch took part in the protest and said that he will continue to push for the mask mandate to end.

“Why mask people who are healthy? I agree with masking people who are unhealthy but my gosh, what are we doing to the society right now. We are holding them as hostages,” Balasch said.

A spokesperson from Unmask London’s Facebook group told CTV News that they will be holding a march every Sunday at Victoria Park from here on out until the policy is changed.

While the instruction to wear a face covering applies to most people, the following individuals are exempt from having to wear face coverings:

• Children under the age of 12;

• People who have a medical condition or disability which inhibits their ability to wear a face covering;

• Those unable to apply or remove a face covering without help;

• People with accommodations under the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disabilities Act;

• Staff or agents of an enclosed public space who are in an area of the premises that is designated for them and not accessible to the public, or in an area separated by a physical barrier, such as plexiglass.

Face coverings are defined as a mask or other barrier, including a bandana or scarf, made of cloth, linen or other similar fabric that fits securely to the head and is large enough to completely and comfortably cover the mouth, nose and chin without gapping.

Face coverings may also include medical masks such as surgical masks, as well as N95 or other similar masks worn by healthcare workers.

Mackie says if a customer isn't wearing a mask the business can ask the person to wear a mask, but not to create conflict.