14 Nov 2020

Epidemiologist calls for mandatory mask use on all public transport

10:51 am on 14 November 2020

Masks should be mandatory on public transport and planes for the forseeable future, a public health expert says.

Caucasian woman in a protective mask sits in public transport at a distance of 2 m from other passengers. Protection and prevention covid 19, Coronavirus

File photo. Photo: 123RF

On Monday, Cabinet will decide on new rules to require people to wear masks on buses, trains and ferries in Auckland, and on all domestic flights around the country.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said New Zealand needed to up its game on mask use, especially in light of the cases linked to the border.

"We are seeing a continuing pattern of border failures in New Zealand, probably about two per month since August, so that just tells us that we have got an ongoing threat there.

"I think having this other line of defence is valuable."

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker

University of Otago Professor of Public Health Michael Baker. Photo: University of Otago Wellington / Luke Pilkinton-Ching​

People needed to get used to wearing masks and seeing people out and about wearing them, Prof Baker said.

"Every New Zealander now should own a fabric mask and know when to use it.

"One way of introducing mask culture is to have them as a requirement in some settings, and I think public transport and air travel are the obvious ones."

Prof Baker said New Zealanders should not be complacent.

"We know how infectious this virus is, we know that there's only a few barriers between us and other countries where the pandemic is only getting more intense.

"Even though we now have the wonderful news about the effectiveness of a vaccine, it's still going to be many months before that will make a difference to the level of risk in New Zealand."

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said the government would make further decisions in the next week about whether to extend the mandatory mask order on public transport to areas outside Auckland.

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