31 Aug 2020

Aucklanders head to back to work with new mask rules

From Checkpoint, 6:07 pm on 31 August 2020

Aucklanders cautiously made their way back to school and work today as the city returned to something resembling normality.

It has been more than two weeks since community transmission was confirmed, after more than 100 days without any.

At Auckland Airport, which was flooded with passengers first thing on Monday morning, some jumped at the chance to get out of town while many travelled their well-worn commutes. 

Auckland Transport (AT) has reported nine out of 10 people using public transport are abiding by the new mandatory face mask rule.

In downtown Auckland, the CBD slowly came to life again with roughly half of all pedestrians on Queen St returning to work with masks after the second lockdown.

Office workers, school children and even the odd person wheeling a chair - or carrying a desktop computer screen - hurried up the thoroughfare.

Auckland man Pete said there was 100 percent mask compliance rate on the Devonport ferry and he was excited to be heading back to the office. 

"I've really missed my colleagues under the second lockdown. I think the second lockdown was a lot harder than the first but I'm looking forward to seeing everyone."

He joined half a dozen other commuters RNZ spoke to who expressed cautious optimism about the city's prospects of getting the number of Covid-19 cases back to zero. 

"I think it's still concerning that there is what looks to be an emerging or growing cluster out there but Aucklanders need to be compliant.

"I don't know that all will be [compliant] but they had better be otherwise we'll go back into Level 3. I'm not optimistic but I'm hopeful."

Another commuter Anna said she was on her way to her job at a retail store where face mask wearing protocol was more ambiguous. 

"Most of the time it's fine but every now and again you'll get the odd customer who is a bit close. People forget to social distance."

St Mary's College students Perdy, Tattie and Alanna wore colourful handmade masks to school today and were excited to see their friends again. 

"It's just, quite nervous to go back with everyone else because it's quite hard to keep social distancing," Perdy said. 

Senior Sergeant Sia Faga Siaki and fellow police officers were handing out face masks to anyone without at transport hubs this morning.

"On a whole, the public have been really awesome, maybe seeing one or two without but they're really compliant. A lot of people are actually doing their part."

AT's Stacey van der Putton was similarly impressed.

"We have had a lot of police... out there today, helping inform customers along the way."

Auckland Airport's domestic terminal was very busy for periods this morning, with social media commentators concerned about an apparent lack of social distancing at check-in.

Graham Gibb flew from Auckland to Queenstown this morning.

"Auckland Airport was chaotic, very badly disorganised, people milling around. Long queues, and no social distancing at all. It was quite surprising."

An airport spokesperson said it was expecting 168 flights today, compared to 51 a week ago.

She said most people are wearing masks and staff are working to impress on travellers the need to physically distance.

The airport - in a statement - said safety was a priority.

"Our staff follow strict safety protocols, and 100% of our priority front-line staff have been tested for Covid-19 in the last two weeks and they are currently undertaking re-testing. 

"We were really pleased to see the majority of travellers wearing masks at the terminal this morning.

"Auckland Airport has a range of health and safety measures in place for travellers, and we are working hard to remind people about the importance of physical distancing so everyone can travel responsibly and with confidence."

Only passengers were allowed in the domestic terminal.

Air New Zealand chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui said every second self-service kiosk was being used.

"There are also floor markers in place for queuing at check-in counters, service desks, bag drops and departure gates."