Despite the Government's push for more mask use, one retail expert says that "compliance has dropped off a cliff".
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford says that they are actively encouraging customers to wear masks when out shopping.
"Although it is a legal requirement to wear masks when customers enter a retail shop, the Government does not enforce this, which has created a loophole that allows pretty much anyone to declare themselves exempt for any reason, and compliance has dropped off a cliff," Harford told the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend.
"Retail NZ members report that only around a third of customers nationally are actually wearing masks," Harford said.
His comments come after public health officials this week made a public push for New Zealanders to mask up when they are out and about amid the rise in cases of the Omicron subvariant BA.5.
The Ministry of Health said wearing a mask was one of the "best measures" to reduce the chance of catching Covid-19, or other respiratory illnesses.
"The more layers of protection people put in place - such as mask-wearing, vaccinations, and staying home when sick - the more they reduce the risk of spreading respiratory viruses.
"Even if you're fully vaccinated, or have had Covid-19, continuing to wear a face mask is important in keeping you, your whānau and your community safe.
"As a general rule, the ministry urges people to wear a mask in public indoor settings outside the home and in poorly ventilated spaces, or when it is hard to physically distance from other people."
The Rotorua Daily Post Weekend was out and about yesterday at lunchtime and observed only about a quarter of people entering shops along Pukuatua, Tutanekai and Eruera Streets were wearing masks.
On Eruera St, Jude Hulton at Ahu Boutique said that it was "about a 50/50 split" when reflecting on their customers wearing masks.
"We get a lot of customers apologising for forgetting their masks but I don't force others to wear them," she said.
"As a staff member on the floor, I adhere to wearing one and I love to make a statement - I treat these masks as practical accessories with our different designs.
"We're a small business and don't have many staff, so I wear my mask because I want to keep coming to work."
On Pukuatua St, shopper Timo Decker said it was important for him to wear a mask because he has an awareness of what Covid is.
He said he wore a mask at all times and didn't want to get lazy, even at the office.
"Only when I sit at my desk, is when I'll take off my mask.
"As I'm in a sphere of education, I'm respecting that and I'm protecting children."
Three Tikis shop owner Okja Kim said many people did not wear masks when shopping.
"I don't always feel safe but I always wear my mask," Kim said.
"Many people didn't wear masks in May and June. I think people are getting scared again, so I've noticed more people wearing masks lately.
"Sometimes people will ask and are unsure about the rules."
Holidaymakers Nadia Luxleigh and Christine Way have both got used to wearing their masks. Luxleigh, from Christchurch and Way, from Wellington, both said they observed a high level of mask-wearing in their respective cities.
"It's now part of our habit," Luxleigh said.
"We've always got one handy, there's always a clean one in the bag," Way said.
Orlea Rayne from The Health Shop on Eruera St said it was up to the individual to decide for themselves.
"It should come down to personal choice and we respect what people want to do for themselves to feel safe," Rayne said.
Rotorua Business Chamber chief executive Bryce Heard said he did not think anyone had the right to tell people what do to when it came to masking up.
"There are different viewpoints and we should be able to exercise our own choices as we see fit," Heard said.
He said he didn't feel strongly either way about mandates but that if the Government were to enact one, there would have to be some practical parameters around it.
"Mandating would be very difficult because of all the different circumstances around it.
"If you're out in the open, lower risk but if you're in a crowded room, it's probably wiser to wear a mask and take sensible precautions," he said.
The community is being urged to mask up particularly indoors, including schools.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says the Government's push to boost the accessibility of rapid antigen tests (RATs) and masks is being hindered by improper mask use and under-reporting of positive Covid results.
Baker said the Government should impose a mask mandate for schools to slow the rise in Omicron's BA.5 subvariant, which now accounts for almost half of reported Covid cases.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association president Suzanne Billington, who is also principal of Tauriko School, said schools already had the discretionary power to impose a mandate for students from Year 4 upwards and staff to wear masks in the classroom.
Billington said there were "quite diverse views" among school communities on whether they should compel people to wear masks.
If the Government, armed with good scientific data, believed a mask mandate was required in classrooms it would certainly "make things a lot easier" for schools, particularly in helping to maintain good relationships with the school community.
New Zealand had 10,470 new coronavirus cases and 16 Covid-related deaths yesterday - including one from the Lakes region.
There were 773 Covid-related hospitalisations, with 14 people in ICU.
More respirator masks are now available, with those at the highest risk of severe illness being prioritised for P2/N95 masks.
- Additional reporting, Sandra Conchie