7 Aug 2020

Mask orders boom after New Zealanders told to be ready, but Brownlee queries timing

10:08 am on 7 August 2020

Mask manufacturers are receiving massive orders after the government says people will be encouraged to wear them if the country returns to alert level 2.

Commuters walk past Melbourne's Flinders Street Station on July 23, 2020 on the first day of the mandatory wearing of face masks in public areas as the city experiences an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Commuters walk past Melbourne's Flinders Street Station on July 23, 2020 on the first day of the mandatory wearing of face masks in public areas. Photo: AFP

In new guidance everyone has been urged to have masks ready in case of a second wave of Covid-19, by the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

The move comes after months of advice from New Zealand officials saying there wasn't enough evidence for the value of masks being worn widely in public. But as of yesterday Health Minister Chris Hipkins joined the call for households to buy them and keep them ready in case they are needed.

"The Ministry is now recommending that as part of our collective preparations for any future outbreak of Covid-19 households add sufficient masks for everybody normally resident in the household to the emergency supply kits."

Hipkins said they should be used in shops or public transport if cases start to re-emerge in the community again. He said they don't need to be medical grade.

Christchurch company Earth Sea Sky supplies masks that fit that brief.

During lockdown the business converted their clothing workshop to focus on making masks.

Co-owner Jane Ellis said since the government announcement they've been getting up to 120 orders an hour.

"All I can say is that if I go in and look where dispatch is, usually out of the printer you print out the dispatch labels and they might go from the printer to the floor - well they are going round and round the room at the moment.

"There's significant orders coming in," Ellis said.

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Mask making is in full swing at Earth Sea Sky. Photo: Supplied / Earth Sea Sky

The masks come in packs with a filter which is made by the Auckland company, Lanaco.

Lanaco Helix Filter

A close-up of the Lanaco filter used by more than 25 New Zealand mask-making companies. Photo: Lanaco

It had also just launched a mask of its own, which it said filtered at least 95 percent of airborne particles.

Founder Nick Davenport said if the virus returned, the country would be a lot more prepared.

"When Covid struck here and we went into lockdown in March, we were already manufacturing filter media and we set about establishing a community mask programme.

"We now have 25 companies around the country who are busy selling cloth masks which take our filter insert.

"They're actually flat out at the moment servicing the Australian market. So that's a capacity within New Zealand that did not exist pre-Covid," Davenport said.

Auckland mask company Meo had predominantly served the international market for three years.

Its director, Kenneth Leong, said New Zealanders have been slow on the up-take, but they'd had thousands of orders in the first few hours after the announcement.

"We've been totally inundated with orders. So the orders keep coming through every minute, literally.

"So, not quite what I expected because I thought Kiwis would remain slightly complacent until such time that community transmission occurs," Leong said.

Brownlee raises doubts on border security

National Party deputy leader and Covid-19 border response spokesperson Gerry Brownlee told Morning Report the announcement has come out of the blue.

He said National had been accused of scare-mongering over Covid-19 issues in the past and now this was a scary development from the government.

National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee 21 July 2020

Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"Why is it now when we have 94 days now with no community transmission and apparently secure borders that they're suddenly wanting to bring this up.

"I think it's a bit of a squirrel running up a tree so that we're not looking at the teetering employment situation."

He said the government should be putting its focus on the 450,000 people on a wage subsidy that would disappear on 1 September.

Brownlee also suggested that border security may be more porous than was being made public.

A report leaked to the Stuff website indicated there were potentially significant weaknesses in the border and these needed to be tightened up.

"There's nothing wrong with having an emergency kit and if masks are part of it that's fine. I suppose I'd have to say it's the strength of the way it's being put to us that is of concern.

"If we've got a secure border then we should not have any further community transmission."

He said there needed to be a toughening of border security before "frightening" people into the possible need for masks.

If community transmission occurred during the election campaign, it would be wise for National to be brought into any discussions on handling the outbreak, he said.

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