Masks mandatory on public transport from level 2 and higher

Face masks will be mandatory from anyone travelling on public transport from next Monday.

While the country is at alert level 2 and higher, the Government is making it compulsory for people travelling on buses, planes, trains, ferries and even Ubers to wear face masks to protect themselves and others.

The move comes after several people became unwell from a bus journey and new research shows the benefits of people wearing face coverings.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also urged Aucklanders to wear face masks while they are out in public as she has been since the city moved into level 3 almost two weeks ago.

Ardern announced today Auckland will remain in level 3 until midnight on Sunday when it moves to level 2 which allows schools and retailers to open but requires people to maintain social distancing.

The rest of the country will also remain at level 2 for a week.

Ardern said there was still availability of reusable face masks but also encouraged New Zealanders to consider fashioning a face mask at home that would give them similar protection.

"We are no mandating any type of mask, it is a face covering."

Ardern said they had chosen an area that was easier to enforce and people who did not wear them would not be allowed entry. The new rule also included those catching Ubers.

"If Covid can spread on a bus, and we know masks make a difference, let's wear masks."

Children under the age of 8 to 10 were likely to be exempt from wearing face masks - but the exact age was still to be decided.

People would require a letter if they could not wear a mask for medical reasons.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said wearing masks was one of a number of tools in the toolbox to stop New Zealand going up to level 3 again, so it was a good idea.

He said his advice would that masks should be mandatory from level 3, and level 2 was borderline.

But Ardern said Cabinet made the call to make it from level 2 in order to simplify the rules.

She said there were a number of things to go through including who would be liable if the rules were broken which is why they had allowed for seven days to work through enforcement and exemption issues before it was mandated.

"Generally this is falling on the individual to make sure they are complying but equally for the question, particularly for Uber, to stop passage for someone if they are not wearing one."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff was disappointed by the lockdown extension but understood the move and supported the mandatory wearing of masks on public transport.

"Everything we can do in the fight against this disease makes a difference, and I believe the mandatory wearing of masks on public transport is sensible given our recent experience. It is also strongly advised to wear a face covering in other situations where physical distancing is difficult, such as when going shopping."

He also recommended people start wearing masks now, rather than waiting until next Monday when it is enforced.

Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison said the Government's decision to make face masks mandatory would only make public transport safer on top of the extra safety measures including the increased cleaning regime the council already had in place.

Ellison said AT HOP cards were helping them track down people who shared two separate journeys with people who had Covid-29, which highlighted why people needed to make sure their cards were registered and their contact details were up to date.

He said 88 per cent of people surveyed during level 3 supporting compulsory face masks on public transport.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran supported the move. Passengers flying from Auckland were already required to wear masks during level 3 and other passengers travelling from other ports had also been encouraged.

The airline was now in the process of contacting customers who may be affected by the extension of current alert levels which means Auckland will stay in level 3 until midnight Sunday.

Lesley Gray, senior lecturer at the University of Otago's department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, said making masks mandatory on public transport was the right decision despite New Zealand going from "whoa to go" on mask wearing in just a few short weeks.

She said fabric three layer masks with an outer layer of non-absorbent material such as polyester, a middle layer of cotton and an inner layer of cotton or cotton blend were great and hoped community groups would start making masks to help those who couldn't make or purchase their own.

"We need to get over our embarrassment and start appreciating everyone's unique mask identity (and not forgetting good hand hygiene and physical distancing where possible."