Mandatory mask wearing on public transport does not go far enough and should extend to any indoor place, a public health expert says.
New Zealanders should instead be following the lead of countries like Taiwan and wearing them at malls, universities, supermarkets, workplaces and bars and restaurants if they want to get a head of the virus, according to Otago University public health expert Professor Nick Wilson.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that from next Monday face mask wearing would be mandatory on all public transport including planes, buses, trains, ferries and Ubers. Children would be exempt.
But Wilson said he and his colleagues had been arguing for masks to be mandatory in a wide range of indoor public settings for alert level 2 and higher since May.
He said the Government's previous advice around not wearing masks was wrong and New Zealand only had to look at Taiwan's success to Covid which arguably had the best response worldwide and had only recorded seven deaths to see what had worked.
"It had high mask use from back in January. If we are going to minimise the economic costs in these outbreaks we have to have state-of-the-art responses every time."
Along with mask wearing, New Zealand also needed smarter alert levels and better border control.
"This outbreak in Auckland has just shown complacency and doing things in a half-hearted way is just not adequate for such an infectious virus. If we want to avoid Melbourne, we've just got to up our game and do things properly like they do in Taiwan."
Wilson said other high risk settings that led to outbreaks because people were breathing heavily, churches where there was a lot of singing and night clubs so all warranted mandatory mask wearing.
Once the country returned to alert level 1 then masks may not be needed unless there was a transition period or for special circumstances such as for visitors to aged residential care facilities.
Aucklanders have been urged to wear masks while shopping during level 3 - but the uptake has been relatively low which only strengthened the argument that it should be mandatory to normalise it, he said.
"This is a bit new for New Zealanders. That feeling that you are being normal has to be mandatory so that everyone is in it..."
He said the earlier advice from Government that New Zealanders didn't need to wear masks was wrong and went against advice from experts like him.
The latest advice from the World Health Organisation was that children aged 12 and over should wear masks as they transmitted the virus similar to adults.
Masks for younger children could also be considered but not for those aged younger than six.
Wilson said primary school children appeared to be happy wearing masks - especially if it was normalised and they were following their parents' lead - and so he thought WHO had taken a very conservative approach to this and saw no reason why they couldn't.
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker also supported the use of face masks and felt it ultimately signalled a move away from relying on lockdowns by putting more reliance on contact tracing, testing, and mask use.
"This is definitely a more nuanced approach," he told the Herald, adding that it could prove the path for New Zealand's future elimination strategy.
Mask use could even lead to relaxed physical distancing measures on planes, trains and buses, he said.
University of Auckland modeller and physicist and Te Pūnaha Matatini director Professor Shaun Hendy urged people to keep taking Covid-19 seriously and to wear masks not only on public transport but also in any other situation where you are indoors in close contact with other people for an extended period.
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