Passengers on Auckland's buses, trains and ferries who refuse to wear masks have escaped prosecution with revelations not a single lawbreaker has been fined.
It comes as a leading epidemiologist calls for universal mask use ahead of the Christmas holidays, warning the country is still at risk and current measures will not prevent an outbreak.
It's been almost a month since the Government announced a new Covid-19 public health order instructing all commuters on public transport in, into and out of the Auckland region, to wear a face covering.
The special amendment, which came into effect on November 19, also includes domestic flights throughout New Zealand.
Masks are regarded as another line of defence against the infection which has seen two substantive lockdowns and a threat of community spread in November, but in the first month of mandatory use in Auckland no charges have been laid.
The health order stipulates if the mask wearing order is breached without reasonable excuse it becomes an infringement offence.
Lawbreakers face a $300 infringement fee or a court fine of up to $1000.
When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the changes last month she said police would be tasked with enforcing the mask wearing, not bus or ferry drivers.
But since the measures were first introduced on November 19, police have not issued a single fine.
A police spokesman said they were not aware of any issues and there had been no arrests or charges involving the travelling public.
"Our focus is on engaging, educating and encouraging the public around face covering requirements on public transport and compliance," said a spokesperson.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said it appeared there was widespread compliance with mandatory mask wearing and where there were issues, a persuasive approach was being adopted by authorities.
"By and large, Aucklanders have done a good job of following the rules," he said.
"Auckland Transport staff do not have legal powers to enforce masks and face coverings on public transport, which is the responsibility of the police.
"Police will make their own determination around how they enforce the measures but have been clear publicly that they are taking a primarily educational approach."
Goff encouraged Aucklanders to guard against complacency, saying it was critical everyone continued to follow the rules which had kept our communities safe at a time when Covid-19 was running rampant across the globe.
Auckland Transport group manager metro services Stacey van der Putten said the government rules could only be enforced by the police and the Prime Minister had made it clear it was not up to transport staff to enforce the rules.
"Auckland Transport supports the government rules around wearing face coverings on public transport.
"We would encourage everyone to follow the government guidelines and wear a face covering and also scan the QR code in all buses, trains and ferries," said van der Putten.
Face masks were on sale in 42 vending machines at bus and rail stations and ferry wharves across Auckland.
Ardern has previously said officials would be keeping a close eye on the uptake of the Auckland travel rules ahead of extending the public transport mask-mandate across the country.
The order currently makes it compulsory for people to wear masks on public transport around Auckland, drivers of taxis and app-based ride services, and anyone flying throughout the country.
There are a number of exemptions including children under 12, pupils travelling to and from school and any person who has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask or face covering safely or comfortably.
When the latest Covid-response restrictions were announced Chris Hipkins said the rules could be enforced by police but the focus would be on education.
Both Ardern and Hipkins were at pains to point out that it was not up to transport operators to make sure people abided by the rules.
"We're not expecting bus drivers to stop the bus and enforce these measures," Hipkins said.
But he was confident there was enough public backing to make mask use mandatory in these situations.
"It will provide another line of defence, is a low-cost and practical option and presents a minor inconvenience by comparison."
Although bus, rail and ferry passengers are required to wear masks on a country-wide level, the Ministry of Health and Prime Minister are encouraging people to wear masks.
Professor Michael Baker said it was important to know if there was any systematic monitoring and evaluation of mask wearing in the two situations it was mandatory.
"I have not personally seen data on the level of uptake in either setting. Given this policy is part of our Covid-19 defences, it would be important to know how it is working," Baker said.
Otago University senior public health research fellow Amanda Kvalsvig, who has published work on the need for mass masking, said it was important to see all commuters on public transport wear masks as we entered a "high-risk" period with people travelling around the country to be with families.
"It's not enough to ask only Aucklanders and air travellers to manage that risk – we're all at risk - and there needs to be a baseline level of pandemic prevention measures in place everywhere. Universal mask use on public transport would be an excellent protective step."
She said under current alert level 1 measures it would not be enough to stop an outbreak from developing over the upcoming holidays.
"We can see what's happening in other countries that have uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 infections, with rising death tolls, continuous lockdowns, and hospitals overwhelmed.
"We've done very well so far and the endpoint is in sight. But we still have another winter to get through before vaccine coverage is high enough to be truly protective.
"It is vital that we keep wearing masks in settings like public transport where infections spread quickly."