3 Sep 2022

Calls for better ventilation as govt mulls ditching mask mandate

9:49 am on 3 September 2022
Man in restaurant wearing face mask to protect against Covid-19.

File photo. Photo: 123RF

Use of good ventilation and better use of rapid antigen tests could allow mask wearing mandates to be reduced, a microbiologist says.

The government has asked for feedback on a proposal to scrap almost all mandates to wear masks in healthcare settings, including in disability support settings.

The requirement for visitors to wear a mask would only extend to primary and urgent care, hospitals, aged residential care, and disability care.

However, microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said ignoring Covid-19 didn't mean it would go away.

"With the virus still circulating, we can't give up the public health measures that are keeping lots of people safe," she said. "So if we're not going to use masks as one of them, then we need to use something else."

Dr Siouxsie Wiles Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Wiles said if rooms were well ventilated, masks may not be needed.

"If people can be assured that they're going into a place and the place is well ventilated or it's using air purifiers, then that's one way of not needing to wear masks."

The hospitality industry said businesses were looking forward to the mask mandate being lifted.

Restaurant Association president Mike Egan said with infections dropping, the time was right.

Mike Egan at Monsoon Poon, one of the Wellington restaurants he owns.

Mike Egan Photo: RNZ / Max Towle

"We're ready for it, because as you'll be aware that while staff wear masks, none of the customers have to of course because they're eating and drinking, so it is a bit of a barrier," he said.

Egan said with summer coming and tourists on the way, New Zealand should prepare to drop the masks.

But Aucklanders spoken to by RNZ said mask mandates should stay, despite declining cases of Covid-19.

"I feel that at this stage it is important in the public places, where it is crowded it should be mandatory, because we're still not out of it yet," one person told RNZ.

People in Queen Street Auckland, wearing masks.

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Leading epidemiologist Michael Baker yesterday said the need for wider mask-wearing rules was not so necessary now that case numbers were dropping.

However, he emphasised they were still needed in some settings, including around vulnerable people in places like aged care or healthcare facilities.

And isolation for positive cases was still vital to protect people, he said, because regardless of the overall figures, each person exposed was put in potential danger.

Case numbers and hospitalisations have been dropping, with the rolling seven-day average yesterday dropping to 1948 for community cases.

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