Not wearing a face mask on public transport will become an offence punishable by fines from Monday when Auckland is due to join the rest of the country at alert level 2.
The Government is releasing three million masks for national distribution over the coming days as a “one-off boost” to immediate supply.
It comes as it was announced today there are a further six cases in the community linked to the Auckland cluster – five are household contacts and the other is a workplace contact.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said wearing a face covering on public transport was the right thing to do and would help keep New Zealanders safe from Covid-19.
From Monday it will be compulsory for everyone aged 12 and over to wear a face covering on public transport and planes under alert level 2 and above. There will be certain exemptions for health, disability and practicality reasons.
Not wearing a face covering on public transport will become punishable by a $300 infringement notice or a fine of up to a $1000 imposed by the courts.
The Government says initial enforcement of the rules will be a light touch – starting with engagement, encouragement and education.
“New Zealand has had real success in taking collective action to contain and stamp out Covid-19 because we’ve worked as a team,” Hipkins said.
“I know this is big change and will take some getting used to but it is a small thing we can all do that helps us get back to the freedoms of level 1.”
Masks and face coverings did not replace physical distancing – they complemented other public health measures, he said.
“We want to make this as easy as possible, so any form of face covering will do. If you don’t have a mask you can use a scarf or bandana,” he said.
“We encourage everyone to get three or four washable masks each and are also investigating the potential distribution of reusable masks to those most in need.
We know that some people won’t be able to wear masks for personal and medical reasons.”
He urged people to be supportive of others as everyone got to grips with the new policy.
The three million masks to be released will be distributed among iwi, social services groups and community foodbanks in centres and regions where there is public transport.
“It will take time for people to adapt. Not everyone will have a face covering ready for the Monday morning commute but pretty quickly we will see face coverings become commonplace on public transport,” he said.
Face coverings – the rules
The order today sets out that at alert level 2 and above:
Face coverings should be worn on public transport and aircraft. That includes trains, buses, and ferries.
They don’t need to be worn:
• By children under 12.
• On school buses.
• On charter or group tours.
• On interisland ferries.
• On private flights.
• By private contractors of air services such as top-dressers.
These groups are considered to be already likely within each other’s bubbles as part of a registered group or have space to physically distance.
In addition, face coverings do not need to be worn by:
• Passengers of small passenger vehicles, such as taxis and ubers. But drivers will be required to wear masks.
• People with a disability or physical or mental health condition that makes covering their face unsuitable.
• There will be other times when it is not required – such as in an emergency, if unsafe, if people need to prove their identity, or to communicate with someone who is deaf, or if required by law.