A leading scientist has called out Air New Zealand for encouraging passengers to remove masks by serving food and drink on short flights.
However, the airline says it discussed the issue with health officials recently, and they were supportive of food and drink being served.
Infectious diseases expert Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles tagged the national carrier in a Twitter thread today, saying she had contacted Air NZ a few times questioning the policy to serve snacks and drink on domestic flights, but never got a response.
The current approach meant people were removing masks.
"They are only serving a cookie or some chips. It's not like we can't survive the hour or two without them," Wiles, an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, and who has become one of the faces of the science community's response to Covid-19, said in the thread.
"This makes me really angry, as they got a massive bail out from the government to keep them viable and so surely in return they should be doing their bit for our team of 5 million."
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said the question of serving food and drink was checked with the Ministry of Health "very recently, and they were supportive of us continuing this service under Alert Level 1"
"We continue to have regular dialogue around our settings with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport to ensure we keep everyone safe. Customers are of course still required to keep their mask or face covering on while they are not eating or drinking.
"I travel on our domestic services once a week serving tea and coffee and my experience has been that around two thirds of our customers opt to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a snack while on board."
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the Government needed to put out clearer rules around face masks.
Until that happened, he said it was understandable if there was uncertainty by both organisations like Air NZ and individuals about what the best approach is.
Wiles also took issue with an Air NZ employee's link to a new research paper "by the Plan B boys", which advocates for a loosening of border restrictions.
"It's only because we followed Plan A and not Plan B that we are even able to safely fly internally right now," she wrote.
The report referenced by Wiles, "Estimating the effect of selective border relaxation on Covid-19 in New Zealand", calls for a "traffic light" system to be put in place at the border, where international travellers are rated according to the Covid-19 situation in their origin country.
It's co-authors include Dr Simon Thornley, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland and part of the "Plan B" group who argued lockdowns were an overreaction to Covid-19, and Air NZ's chief medical officer Dr Ben Johnston.
The research was paid for by Auckland International Airports. Wiles followed up her initial social media post by tweeting an apology to Air NZ, for mistakenly stating the airline partly funded the research.
Under the proposed traffic light system, travel would be unrestricted from Covid-19-free locations.
The report was released yesterday but written in August 2020.
The research predicts more than 60,000 travellers a month would come into the country under the model, up from the 11,271 who entered in August 2020.
Foran said the study was conducted by a "safe border project", involving it and others in the industry, "and is not associated with Plan B".
"It is one part of a wider piece of work which considers options for safe travel as we manage the long term effects of Covid-19. The pandemic is clearly rapidly evolving and the study was carried out back in mid-2020 prior to the new variants of Covid-19 being around. We continue to work closely with the Ministries of Health and Transport to consider options should the border open."
Reacting to the research, Professor Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini and the University of Canterbury, said such a system would mean breaches like that seen recently at the Pullman Hotel would happen 20-50 per cent more frequently.
"The authors of the study claim that the recent requirement for a pre-departure test will mitigate this risk. However, this is far from clear because pre-departure tests are not perfect and many travellers were already required to take pre-departure tests by their airline or country of transit."