Northlanders are being asked to do their bit to protect themselves and others from Covid-19, and follow the government decision to make face masks whilst using public transport compulsory (as of yesterday).
John Bain, who chairs the Northland Regional Transport Committee, said face coverings, which could include a mask, scarf or similar, were mandatory throughout the country, and while most Northlanders affected would be Whangārei residents using the CityLink bus service, the rules applied to other public transport too.
"These include Mid North Link, Hokianga Link, Far North Link and Bream Bay Link," he said.
"For Total Mobility vehicles (which include taxi companies, Driving Miss Daisy and smaller vans), face coverings don't need to be worn by passengers under the new rules, but their drivers must. There are also exemptions for people with a disability or physical or mental health condition that makes covering their face inappropriate."
Face masks would not be provided by the various services.
He accepted that compulsory mask use would not necessarily find favour with everyone, and may take some getting used to, but it was important to remember that their use was part of the nation's evolving response to the Covid epidemic, and had been recommended by the country's health experts.
"We're hoping that all public transport users will do their bit and follow the new rules, and not make life unnecessarily difficult and/or potentially risky for service operators, and of course other passengers. Protect others, protect yourself," he said.
Cr Bain added that operators and drivers were not expected to assume the role of enforcement officers, and would not be required to refuse entry to anyone not wearing a mask. However, anyone caught by police not wearing a mask without a reasonable excuse could be instantly fined $300, or up to $1000 through the courts.
Security arrangements would be in place to ensure transport users were aware of the requirement for coverings.
Even with the new mask rule, existing social distancing conditions would still apply, including a requirement for people to stay at least one metre apart on public transport.
And while much of the public and media focus was currently on the new mask restrictions, he wanted to thank those driving the buses and other forms of transport.
"Our bus and other public transport drivers were at the forefront of those helping essential workers and others who needed vital transport throughout the first lockdown," he said.
"Even though Northland is currently not facing the most severe Covid-related restrictions, transport workers are again at the forefront of our region's response, and I'd like to express my thanks to them, personally and in my role as a regional councillor, for their hard work and professionalism."
More information about the face mask new rules can be found at www.nrc.govt.nz/facemaskFAQs