Michael Baker calling for mandatory Covid-19 QR code scanning at bars, ski resorts

With only around a quarter of Australians coming into New Zealand using quarantine-free travel downloading New Zealand's Covid Tracer app, Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker wants to see bars, restaurants, ski resorts and other high risk locations implementing mandatory QR code scanning.

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The Otago University epidemiologist says only a quarter of Australians coming into New Zealand are downloading the Covid Tracer App. Source: Breakfast

It comes as a third community Covid-19 case has been confirmed in Sydney and New Zealand's travel bubble with Victoria is extended again to Tuesday next week amid an outbreak there.

The Government says the risk to New Zealanders from these outbreaks is low and anyone who has been at locations of interests across the ditch is required by law to isolate and be tested.

This morning, Baker told Breakfast he thinks the quarantine-free travel bubble is working as intended, pausing flights between some regions when coronavirus cases pop up, but said New Zealand could take additional measures to protect Kiwis from the virus.

"I think at the moment a much bigger worry is what's happening across our region because we've seen a lot of countries like New Zealand that have done well with elimination in this region and some of them are now going backwards," he said, citing new outbreaks in Taiwan, Singapore, mainland China, Fiji and Melbourne.

"I think this is because of the more infectious Delta variant and I also think that people are maybe getting a bit of policy fatigue and I think we need to keep revising our approaches to stay ahead of this virus.

"I think there's a lot more things we need to do," Baker said.

"We need to obviously finish vaccinating all of our border workers and air crew, so that's a vital line of defence we haven't completed yet; I think we need to upgrade our alert level system, this is a system that worked well a year ago but it needs to change to take account of these more infectious variants, and that means thinking more about indoor ventilation and greater use of masks when needed, not all the time.

"Also, I think we need to look at our contact tracing system. At the moment of course it's voluntary to scan in and out of places even if they're high risk environments and I think that needs to change because people are just not doing it."

It is currently mandatory for all businesses in New Zealand to display a QR code but not to force people to scan in.

"A simple change would be to require scanning in for just high risk paces, that's sort of like bars, restaurants and particularly places like ski lodges and so on because they've been a major source of outbreaks overseas," Baker said.

"At the moment we have a situation where people can fly in from Australia to Queenstown, I believe only a quarter of Australians are actually downloading the app and then they can stay at these facilities.

"If they knew you wouldn't be able to get entry to some of these places unless you downloaded the app and actually scanned in I think that would be a useful improvement and it's actually not difficult to implement."

However, Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Brett O'Riley told 1 NEWS they don't want to be turning away businesses, so workers have instead been doing what they can to encourage everyone to scan in using the Covid Tracer app.

"We know that business are doing their bit. Everyone wants to be open for business, whatever that may be, and we know that particularly those who are customer facing have for the last 15 months been incredibly responsible with encouraging people to use the QR code.

"Everyone should be scanning in. We are all equally responsible for ensuring there is no community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand and as the risk of the Sydney situation to us is low, it is not this one thing that will keep us all safe."

O'Riley said the Trans-Tasman bubble was the first step to New Zealand opening up to the world, which was needed to address "dire skills shortages" for New Zealand businesses and boost the nation's economy.

"It would help if vaccinations were rolled out even more swiftly, and it may be worth reconsidering the 'vaccination passport’ and how that might enable us to further open our borders safety," he suggested.

"More information for visitors at the border, and another concerted campaign that embedded the behaviour of scanning the QR code everywhere you go, not just when a risk – however large or small – has been identified, would also be useful."