Mask-wearing has “fallen off a cliff” in recent weeks, says Retail NZ.
Retail and catering businesses are relieved that a change to the red traffic light setting is off the table for the time being.
But as mask-wearing “has fallen off a cliff,” Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford is encouraging shoppers who don’t want to wear one to stay away from stores.
Director of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, Covid-19 Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall and Health NZ boss Margie Apa gave an update to the government’s Covid-19 plan and guidelines on Thursday afternoon.
New Zealand would remain in the orange light with a focus on mask wearing and vaccination and expanded access to free RATs.
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“These steps must be implemented to protect our vulnerable community members, our healthcare system, and perhaps our businesses and economies,” Bloomfield said.
“Using masks should be like putting on a seat belt.”
Covid-19 Response Secretary Ayesha Verrall speaks about mask use.
Mask use has declined, particularly in supermarkets, Bloomfield said.
Greg Harford, CEO of Retail NZ, said the fact that there had been no significant changes to recruitment was “good news”.
“Retail NZ continues to encourage customers to wear masks when shopping, in line with Government guidance.”
However, Harford said the government has yet to address and resolve a loophole where almost anyone can declare they are exempt from the mask requirement “for pretty much any reason”.
“Feedback from our members suggests that mask use has fallen off a cliff in recent weeks and retail workers continue to face abuse when asking customers to dress up.
“If customers in retail really don’t want to wear a mask, we encourage them to shop online,” he said.
More than 18,000 people have been granted mask waivers, and in the past two years the Human Rights Commission had received 855 Complaints about mask exemptions.
Wellington native Rosina Radford said she was scolded by retail workers and members of the public and denied service for not wearing a mask, despite having an exception for asthma and eczema.
Verrall said the government and health officials had weighed whether a switch to the red light would help stop the spread of Covid.
But mask use, vaccinations and testing are the best defenses, she said.
“We have to balance restrictions with practicality and effectiveness.
“Now is not the time to stop wearing masks.”
Verrall said the Department for Business Innovation and Employment will work with companies to ensure they know the guidelines for creating safe working environments.
“Our message to businesses is simple: if you want to reduce the chance of your employees and customers getting sick, follow this public health advice. You’re more likely to keep your doors open in the winter.”
Marisa Bidois, chief executive of Restaurant NZ, said she was relieved there hadn’t been a move to stop the red light, which would have had “a major impact on our business”.
She reminded restaurateurs of the importance of using masks in their facilities as an important tool in their equipment to keep staff and customers safe.