Coronavirus: Recent returnee blasts 'cowboy approach' to PPE in managed isolation

A recent returnee from Melbourne says New Zealand's approach to personal protective equipment (PPE) in managed isolation is confused and haphazard.

She was shocked to be greeted at the airport by a bus driver, who wore his mask on his chin, and says the same approach was adopted by staff once at the hotel.

That's despite the Ministry of Health saying all staff get "appropriate training".

On a busload of recent arrivals, everyone - including hotel staff - was wearing masks. But is this the norm? Not according to a resident of the Novotel.

"It seems pretty lax and a kind of a cowboy approach to following a guideline," said Jane, a recent returnee from Melbourne.

She's referring to her bus driver, who with a bus full of recent returnees, wore a mask on his chin all the way from the airport to the hotel.

"I just think New Zealand can't afford to be complacent, especially at the border where the risk is still incredibly high."

Otago University public health expert Professor Michael Baker says it's a problem.

"This is about occupational safety for that bus driver," he told Newshub.

"If a person coughed or sneezed in that environment if they were not wearing a mask or that mask wasn't fitting very well, they could be firing out many infectious particles."

The Health Minister says his visits to the border, and to hotels, made him feel everyone was being very cautious about PPE. 

"I didn't see any evidence of people not following the rules," Chris Hipkins said.

But Newshub has found plenty of evidence.

Masks were on chins at a testing station in West Auckland on Tuesday, while a guard at the Rydges didn't wear one at all, even with guests walking metres away.

Once our camera was spotted, one was quietly slipped on.  

And guards at the Novotel also adopted the 'mask on chin' approach. 

"A lot of the guards seem to have them under their chin or they leave their face exposed completely," Jane said.

The Ministry website states: "Face masks should not be moved during use. This includes being pulled up or pulled down below your chin."

The Director-General of Health says all staff get training.

"[They] receive training on not just how to use not just masks properly, but how to hand wash, and or how to use hand gels appropriately," Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.

Our Melbourne returnee says it's clear that 'training' hasn't sunk in for all, which she says is a worry as the outbreak in Melbourne was linked to poor quarantine protocols.

"It seems very haphazard. Melbourne could be replicated in New Zealand quite easily I think."

So what is the plan if there were an outbreak tomorrow? The Ministry of Health's planning to get a stockpile of masks for public use.  

But Prof Baker says the Government should be promoting handmade masks right now, not waiting for an outbreak. 

"It's actually vital that everyone in New Zealand has a reusable fabric mask and knows how and when to use it."

Prof Baker says New Zealand has been too slow to adopt the idea of mass-masking in public - the wearing of a mask even when they don't feel sick as a mechanism to protect others.