Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced facemasks will be supplied to district health boards to disperse amongst essential workers in health sectors like pharmacies and home care.
He said this move was “not to contradict” the Ministry of Health’s protective personal equipment guidelines, which are in line with expert advice, but so frontline workers are “able to access PPE when they need it".
New Zealand Disability Support Network chief executive Dr Garth Bennie welcomed the move.
“After three weeks of frustration, we absolutely welcome a start of a supply chain for the distribution of personal protective equipment,” he said.
Invercargill support worker Pam King said the announcement masks would be provided was “huge” and answered “everything we’ve been fighting for for the last two weeks”.
“Going from bubble to bubble and then home again and then out again in the afternoon is quite scary for the clients, and us and our families,” she said.
“Having the gear we feel a lot more secure and not scared to do our work.”
Ms King said she visits up to 20 people a day with only gloves and sanitiser provided and is often face-to-face to clients when helping them shower, providing oral care and helping them eat.
“We’re personally only a few inches from their faces so the masks are going to be protecting both parties.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than seven million masks are being dispatched to district health boards around the country for people in roles in midwifery, family planning and aged care.
Bus driver Gurdeep Sahni said with bus drivers in contact with the public every day and touching many surfaces, his industry needs personal protective gear too.
“The supply chain is not that great, pretty haphazard… it doesn’t do any good to anyone."
“We need the masks, we need the sanitizer, we need the gloves, we need the antibacterial wipes,” Mr Sahni said.
First Union transport, logistics and manufacturing spokesperson Jared Abbott said its many bus drivers are in a vulnerable position.
“It really needs some Government attention to get some mass production,” he said.
Mr Abbott said he’s aware of one bus company “passing the buck” to their employees to find their own protective gear, the business saying they’ll pay staff $20 per hour in reimbursement.
He said if the Government assigned First Union a budget to find manufacturers to make masks in New Zealand, they would be able to.
Gilbert Murray, a locksmith in Wellington, said workers in his profession, as well as rubbish truck drivers and couriers need to be provided with personal protective gear from the Government.
He said he has reached out to Capital and Coast District Health Board, who said there was no supply available for his work, and hardware stores have run out.
“We never know what our job is, we don’t need a hell of a lot of stuff… we just want to be prepared,” Mr Murray said.
Mr Murray said surgical-style N95 masks and gloves in all sizes are needed.
He said locksmiths from his work can be called out 24/7 to help people get back inside locked houses and bedrooms, as well as helping businesses and care facilities.