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Leading epidemiologist calls for mandatory face masks in New Zealand schools

A leading epidemiologist is calling for masks to be made mandatory in New Zealand schools to help stamp out the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

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Professor Michael Baker says teenagers transmit Covid-19 "very effectively". Source: Breakfast

Professor Michael Baker also believes there should be an Alert Level 1.5, instead of a straight drop to Level 1 next week for all regions other than Auckland. 

At present, face masks are only mandatory on flights and some forms of public transport for anyone aged 12 and above.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield this morning told TVNZ1’s Breakfast mandatory mask wearing in schools is not something officials are currently looking at doing.

But Baker would like to see it implemented now.

“This outbreak’s different from the first one. I mean this is very much in younger people. I mean half the cases are under 20 and we know that teenagers do transmit the virus very effectively.

“Fortunately, they don’t get very sick but actually that’s a key group that should be wearing masks in schools, in high schools, and on school buses and that would be an additional way of dampening down this outbreak.”

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Physical distancing rules have been dropped on public transport, but masks remain compulsory. Source: Breakfast

Baker says he supports the Government’s announcement yesterday to stop physical distancing on buses, planes, trains and the like as face masks are effective enough alone.

But, moving forward, he says the alert level system needs to be fine tuned.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland's status at Alert Level 2.5 would be extended for at least another week. Meanwhile, the rest of the country would move to Level 1 at 11:59 pm next Monday, provided there are no cases outside Auckland.

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“Personally, I think we need to fine tune our alert level system because at the moment we're using it in a much more targeted way, but we need to make these changes and we need this Level 2.5 which says everyone is wearing masks indoors and there's no travel out of the effected area until we've got the virus under control. 

"I also think we need this new 1.5 so that the country doesn’t move straight from 2 to 1, which is really nothing."

He says a Level 1.5 would keep mask use in some key areas and limit maximum gathering size indoors.