Masks to stay, but public transport and airlines can now fill seats

The Government has slightly eased the restrictions on public transport and airline passengers for Covid-19, saying services can now be filled without the need for social distancing.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talked about the decision to allow flights and public transport to operate at full capacity again. Source: 1 NEWS

However, the mandatory mask rule for Alert Level 2 and above will remain in effect.

Speaking this afternoon after meeting with Cabinet, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said "as a result of the extra measures we have in place at Level 2 in Auckland, and in particular the good uptake of our requirement that people wear a mask on public transport, today I can confirm that we will ease physical distancing requirements on planes and public transport".

"So from today, public transport operators including airlines, buses and trains do not need to maintain any seating restrictions or passenger capacity limits at Level 2.

"Mask use will continue to be compulsory, and has been key in the recommendation by the Director-General [of Health] that this change is safe to occur.

"I know this change will make a real difference to Air New Zealand and those parts of the country seeking increased numbers of visitors, and the change made demonstrates the willingness on the Government's behalf to constantly review our settings, with everyone’s health at the top of our minds."

In a release, the Ministry of Health said the change will take effect immediately.

"With the use of face coverings, our updated advice is that physical distancing should be maintained where possible, however it is not required on either domestic flights or on public transport such as trains, buses and ferries.

"Reports are that passengers on public transport are taking the use of face coverings seriously and regularly scanning QR codes on all forms of transport.

"This along with electronic ticketing on airlines means we can contract trace rapidly if required.

"The advisory by Ministry of Health and Ministry of Transport for recommended seating configurations on public transport that promoted physical distancing have now been revoked, effective immediately."

Both Jetstar and Air New Zealand have said the physical distancing requirement had a severe effect on their ability to operate, with Jetstar suspending its flights until the requirement had been lifted.

Jetstar last week said it was continuing the suspension of its domestic flights until Wednesday this week.

New Zealand, other than Auckland, to move to Alert Level 1 next Monday

Ardern announced a "short extension" to current alert level settings, with the country apart from Auckland returning to Level 1 as of next Monday, September 21, if there are no new cases outside Auckland between now and then.

Ardern said Cabinet will also consider Auckland's alert level settings then, with an eye to increasing gathering limits.