Chris Hipkins fumbles mask rules in COVID-19 traffic light press conference

It's orange for Easter with the Government announcing a shift in New Zealand's traffic light settings from 11:59pm on Wednesday.

It comes after 9495 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in New Zealand, with 551 people in hospital and 15 deaths reported. But the Government says the evidence is clear that we are over the peak of the Omicron wave - so it's safe to move.

There was a toast to orange at Wellington's Dakota Bar, a celebration of the return of proper hospitality. 

"I am relieved that we are going to be going to orange at midnight tonight," said owner Jose Ubiaga. "It's actually going to make the staff morale improve as well as they aren't going to have to be the police officers in the bar or the fun police."

You can do a little dance New Zealand - the Government has given the nightlife the orange light.

Orange means no gathering limits or restrictions at all in bars and restaurants - not even masks. 

While they're still compulsory in retail and on public transport, school kids are only encouraged to wear them. 

"It won't be justified in all cases any longer," said COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. "In some cases, schools will have had a COVID-19 outbreak that would have passed." 

The Government has left the decision up to individual schools. Paediatrician Dr Jin Russell thinks that's a mistake.

"This could actually be quite a tough winter for New Zealand children. We might see a resurgence of COVID-19, but also influenza," she said.

"Viruses do tend to thrive in winter when people mix more indoors. For those reasons, I think it is really important to keep wearing masks in schools."

There are other places you don't need to mask up anymore too, though the COVID-19 Response Minister got himself in a heck of a muddle trying to explain where.

"We are still encouraging them on flights and public transport," Hipkins said initially.

But, oops, actually let's phone a friend on that.

"Give me one minute,” Hipkins said, as he read advice from a device after a scramble to get it sent to him.

“Masks are still a requirement on public transport, including flights," he clarified.

"For some reason, I didn't bring the exact list. When we made those orange settings, we set all of that out."

He fumbled retail too. Asked if you don't have to wear a face mask to the supermarket anymore, Hipkins initially said: "no". But that's wrong, you do. 

"I do have the updated list now. I have refreshed my memory of them. I was incorrect on retail. My apologies for that. Yes, you still do have need to wear a mask in a retail setting," he said later during his press conference. 

Hipkins was so confused he shut down questions on masks while he awaited some clarity. 

"If you just give me a few minutes, the advice will come through," he said. 

"I just had a bit of a mind blank there."

Hipkins did know though that you definitely don't need one to get down on the dancefloor, even though it's essential in the supermarket.

So you can have people pashing on a dancefloor, but people need to wear a mask in a supermarket?

"At the moment, you still have to wear a mask in a retail environment. That is correct," Hipkins responded. 

Asked where the logic was on that, Hipkins said it is a "question of volume".

"There are going to be a lot more people in the supermarket on a weekly basis than there will be out and about pashing on a dancefloor."

Greens co-leader James Shaw said it seemed "strange" that "there is that inconsistency", while National's Chris Bishop said it showed the "unfortunate reality of the confusion around the traffic light rules". 

It's perhaps why the minister got himself in a big old mask mess.