Government reveals three new COVID-19 strategies, but Michael Bakers wants masks mandated more indoors

Deaths with COVID-19, people in hospital, and reported cases have all sky-rocketed this week. 

We're in the grip of a second wave and on Thursday, the Government released its battle plan for the army of five million.

It consists of a few basic strategies we can all take part in. 

The first and best line of defence is to wear a mask indoors, even if you're at school, and 10 million child-size masks will be available for year 4 to 7 students.

Second: If you get sick, stay home and take a test. Free RATS and masks will be available from a number of places, like testing centres.

Third: More anti-viral medicines will be available. 

From Monday, anyone over 75 who tests positive will be eligible for them and they'll reduce at-risk patients' chances of going to hospital by 90 percent.

It was a miserable day in Tauranga, made gloomier for some by the prospect of more masks.

"I'm not a fan of wearing masks, I mean the borders are open," said one person.

"Probably 80 percent of the people that come into the shop aren't wearing masks anymore," said another.

"I don't think wearing a mask is too much of an ask," a third said. 

Well now the Government's not just asking Kiwis to wear a mask - it's begging.

"To help us get through the darkest part of winter," said COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall. 

"My plea to you, to everybody in NZ, is to do your bit," said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

They're asking Kiwis to wear masks not for themselves, but for others.

"Mask-wearing should be like wearing a seatbelt," said Dr Bloomfield. 

"What we mean when we recommend mask-use is that you should do it," said Dr Verrall. 

And to use the now-free RATS too.

"Please test, test, test," Dr Verrall said. 

Our already creaking and straining health system can't take much more. 

"Hospitals are reporting this week over 200 people reporting in sick on any one day," said Health NZ chief executive Margie Apa.

It could get even worse. Modelling shows on the current trajectory there could be 1200 people in hospital by August. But Dr Bloomfield says if Kiwis start wearing masks and isolating, it could stay below 1000.

"We can lower this peak if we take steps, if we all take steps," says Dr Bloomfield. 

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker wants to see masks mandated more indoors. 

"If we carry on at this intensity we could be looking at 5000 deaths a year from COVID-19 - that's 15 times the road toll," he said. 

"We need to shift the norm to being a mask-using society to get us through winter and then reassess in a few months' time."

"I hate wearing masks so…," one person said.

"I think our immune systems are a bit weak because we've been wearing them for so long so I stopped wearing mine."

Despite a surge in cases and a health system under extreme pressure, Dr Verrall said New Zealand will remain at the orange setting. But National's Christopher Luxon thinks the traffic light system "is complex and hard to understand". 

"I know some people have said the protections are too complicated for people," said Dr Verrall. "But they underestimate New Zealanders."

New Zealanders are now being asked to mask up and isolate more.


With our health system in the state it's in and likely more than 20,000 new cases a day, if now is not the time to ratchet up protections, then when?

The only major difference between 'orange' and 'red' is restrictions on mass gatherings, which the COVID-19 Response Minister says aren't where people are mostly getting infected.

So not going to the 'red' setting because it wouldn't make a difference means it's no longer fit for purpose as it stands.

Something else the Government wasn't able to answer was why it's only rolling out these free masks and pleas to use them now, in the middle of winter, after the outbreak has taken off, our health system is buckling and the virus is killing on average 20 Kiwis a day.