Coronavirus: Retail NZ slams mask mandate, calls for Government to review rules

Retail NZ is calling for the Government to review the current mask mandate rules, saying compliance has "dropped off a cliff". 

With all of New Zealand currently at orange in the COVID-19 protection framework (traffic light system), everyone must wear a mask if they're on a domestic flight, public transport, inside retail businesses, public facilities like museums and libraries, unless they have an exemption, according to the COVID-19 website.

But Retail NZ believes it's time to change the rules, saying they no longer make sense. 

"On average, less than a third of customers around the country are wearing masks in-store, according to a survey of Retail NZ members this week," chief executive Greg Harford said.  

"The Government continues to say it's compulsory to wear masks in retail settings but not in other places such as hospitality. At the same time, the Government doesn't enforce the rules and has created a loophole the size of a 747 jumbo jet that allows anyone to claim an exemption for any reason."

Harford said when retail businesses ask customers to put on a mask, it can lead to aggression from customers putting staff at risk. 

"WorkSafe and MBIE (business ministry) have basically told retailers not to ask customers to mask up and where businesses are asking unmasked customers to cover their faces, this is leading to significant aggression and unhappiness from disgruntled customers.

"More than half of retailers say that the mask rules are not protecting their staff or customers and two-thirds want the Government to make masks voluntary immediately."

Retail NZ believes the current rules are contradictory and is calling for the easing of mask mandates in retail businesses. 

"It's nonsense to suggest that you need to wear a mask in all retail stores, while you don't need to wear a mask in a crowded pub, sports event or awards dinner," Harford said.  

"The current rules aren't working and it is time that the Government moved to recommending masks, rather than making them compulsory.  

"Just as in the hospitality sector, retail businesses should be free to require masks if they think it appropriate; while customers should also be empowered to wear masks if they think it's necessary, or to shop online if they want to avoid all risk."  

COVID-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall told Newshub on Sunday that mask-wearing is an incredibly important and easy thing" Kiwis can do to protect themselves from coronavirus and winter illnesses like the flu.

"The current rules around masks are helping keep pressure off the health system by reducing the likelihood of people getting sick," Dr Verrall said in a statement.

"It's also important that anyone who has had COVID-19 previously keep up good mask-wearing behaviour as reinfection is still a possibility."

Dr Verall did not say if the Government is considering reviewing the rules.

The Ministry of Health has also been contacted for comment.