Coronavirus: Masks should remain compulsory in schools if New Zealand moves to orange - Michael Baker

Leading epidemiologist Michael Baker says that masks must remain compulsory in schools if New Zealand moves to the orange traffic light setting.

The Government will decide on Thursday whether to move down from red. 

Currently under orange guidelines, students are only encouraged to wear masks, which Baker said would leave unvaccinated kids too vulnerable, especially since long COVID affects children as well as adults.

Across the country, 54.1 percent of eligible 5 to 11-year-olds have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while only 20.5 percent have had their second dose.

For Pacific children, close to 11 percent are fully vaccinated. That's slightly higher than Māori children, with 9.6 double jabbed. 

These relatively low statistics have Baker worried. 

"That does leave them vulnerable to getting this infection and also potentially to long COVID effects," he said.

Due to these rates, he wants to keep masks mandatory in schools to protect children under orange if the Government decides it's safe to change.

"Until we have really high-quality ventilation in our schools, which we don't have at the moment, we need students and teachers to be wearing masks because unfortunately that's the only barrier we've got in many cases, because only 20 percent of students are fully vaccinated at the moment," Baker said.

The Fono said they are working hard to lift vaccination numbers.

"We are disappointed by the numbers but we aren't disheartened by the numbers. We will keep going," said Frank Koloi from The Fono.

"People have become a bit more complacent when it comes to vaccinations and the numbers have drastically dropped."

That's made The Fono concerned, so tactics have changed alongside other community groups. 

"They literally went door-visiting and knocked on every door of those people in their database and asked them to come and vaccinate," Koloi said.

And in an effort to lift low child vaccination rates, they offer vaccines outside of school hours some days to capture local schools and their parents.

It comes as COVID numbers continue to fall. Just 6718 were reported on Sunday, which is New Zealand's lowest daily total in 45 days. Another 12 deaths were reported.