COVID-19: Everything you need to know about the new mask rules

The Prime Minister has introduced new mask rules after the highly transmissible Omicron variant made its way into the community. 

Jacinda Ardern announced several changes to mask rules in the red traffic light setting at her post Cabinet press conference on Tuesday. 

Masks must now be worn at food and drink businesses, close proximity businesses, events, and gatherings. But there is an exception for drinking, eating and exercising.

The new rules also don't apply to swimming pools or non-public facing businesses.

Additionally, face coverings need to be an actual mask, meaning bandannas, scarves, and t-shirts are no longer acceptable. 

The change also affects workers who are mandated to be vaccinated, they must wear a medical mask - such as the blue surgical masks which are commonly used. 

Children, from Year 4 and up, will now have to wear masks on public transport, including school buses. 

The changes will come into force at 11:59pm on February 3. 

Ardern said the new rules will help slow the spread of the Omicron variant. 

"I know some of these adjustments may cause challenges but the science has been updated and these adjustments will slow the spread of the virus, save lives and give us time to get more of the eligible population boosted," she said. 

The rest of the mask rules from the red setting still apply including mandatory mask use: 

  • on domestic flights
  • on public transport and at arrival and departure points, this includes Cook Strait Ferries and school transport but does not include designated carriages on specified Kiwirail services
  • in taxis or ride share vehicles
  • inside a retail business, for example supermarkets, shopping malls, pharmacies, petrol stations, and takeaway food stores
  • inside public venues or facilities, such as museums and libraries, but not at swimming pools
  • at a vet clinic
  • in an indoor setting at schools, for example a classroom and assemblies. This includes students in Years 4 to 13 and staff
  • inside at tertiary education facilities or when a visitor to a licensed early childhood service
  • in the public areas within courts, tribunals, local and central government agencies, social service providers, and NZ Police
  • in the public area of premises operated by NZ Post Limited
  • when visiting a health care service, for example a healthcare or aged care facility.

People are also encouraged to wear a face mask whenever leaving the house in the red setting. 

It comes after 10 new Omicron community cases were reported on Tuesday. Six are in Auckland, one is in Palmerston North, one is in Nelson-Tasman and two are in Tauranga.

New Zealand shifted to the red setting at 11:59pm on Sunday after Omicron was confirmed to be in the community.