COVID-19: Eventual alert level 1 move might not be as free as before - Michael Baker

New Zealand is tracking well to stamp out COVID-19 again - encouraging signs for an eventual move back to alert level 1, epidemiologist Michael Baker says.

But what that level 1 could look like remains unclear - and there are suggestions it won't have the same freedoms it did prior to the Delta outbreak.

Auckland is entering its fourth week of an alert level 4 lockdown, while the rest of New Zealand is changing to what's being called "Delta level 2" at 11:59pm on Tuesday.

"Delta level 2" is essentially an expansion of alert level 2 - with extra restrictions in place due to the danger posed by the Delta variant, such as mask mandates in public venues.

Baker, from the University of Otago, says New Zealand's efforts in stamping out the Delta outbreak are looking optimistic. He told The AM Show it looks like the variant will be eliminated from Auckland's community.

"We will probably wind up at a new, revised alert level 1, I hope, in the not too distant future."

Rules in alert level 1 are likely to be tweaked given the risk of the Delta variant, Baker said.

"I'm not sure if we'll ever get back quite to the level of freedom we've had for much of the last 18 months because the world has changed… the level of risk has risen but, certainly, we should back to something that resembles that [level 1] in terms of our ability to mix and so-on.

"If there's no virus in New Zealand, then we can be a lot freer."

Twenty new community cases of COVID-19 were reported on Monday, all in Auckland. The outbreak total stands at 821 - 804 in Auckland and 17 in Wellington. 

The South Island has yet to record a case in the latest outbreak.

Mask rules questioned

The Government's decision not to make masks compulsory for students is being called into question by public health experts.

One of the new restrictions in "Delta level 2" is around mask-wearing - they'll become mandatory inside most public venues.

But Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Monday it was a "recommendation, not a requirement" for secondary school students to wear masks.

Children aged 12 and under, primary school students, do not have to wear masks. 

But Baker told The AM Show it should be mandatory for secondary school students.

"They're just as good at transmitting this virus as adults," he said. "They have huge social networks so I think internationally, in many parts of the world, it's been the norm for well over a year now."

It's mandatory for high school students in the US to wear a mask, despite several conservative states challenging the rule, as well as parts of the UK.