PM Jacinda Ardern won't confirm whether Government planning to scrap mask mandates, says they're under review

The Prime Minister won't confirm whether the Government is planning to scrap mask mandates but says they will be included in the upcoming COVID-19 review.  

It comes after the Otago Daily Times (ODT) revealed the Government is proposing scrapping all mask mandates apart from in the most high-risk health settings. 

According to the ODT, the Ministry of Disabled People emailed disability support providers this week asking for feedback within 24 hours on a proposal to "significantly narrow" mask use requirements. 

Under the proposal, visitors would only need to wear masks in primary care, urgent care, hospitals, residential aged care and disability-related residential care, according to the ODT. 

Dentists, physiotherapists, optometrists, audiologists, counsellors and several other professions would be exempt. 

Speaking with media on Friday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wouldn't confirm whether the Government was planning to scrap mask requirements but said they were being reviewed. 

"We are reviewing our COVID rules so we have a regular process of looking at what our current case numbers are, pressure on our hospital system," Ardern said. 

"We are also looking at our settings more broadly. We've been working with the traffic light system for upwards of a year now so now is the time for us to look at whether all those settings are fit for purpose. We include mask use in this analysis."

When asked why the disability sector was only given 24 hours to respond to the proposal to drop mask mandates, Ardern said she "cannot speak to that". 

"We work on the process of receiving public health advice so that public health advice actually builds over quite a period of time. 

"You might be speaking to a particular sector who may have been engaged by our departments as they work on our advice as they prepare for us. We have not formally concluded or received the formal advice yet."

Ardern said the Government is yet to decide whether to drop mask requirements because the final advice is still being considered. 

She also offered assurances to the disability sector after industry leaders raised concerns about the impacts of removing mask mandates. 

"The only thing I would say is that whenever we receive advice we do take into account the range of different interests in our settings and of course, they span from everything in our disability sector to those in our education sector, the business community, a range of interests," Ardern said. 

"It is our job as a Government to factor all of those in alongside, of course, the public health advice.  

"We are very aware of the concerns within our disability community and we have been throughout our COVID-19 management."

It comes after Ardern hinted earlier in the week the country might soon be moving to the green COVID-19 traffic light setting.

The Prime Minister revealed on Monday, Cabinet would review Aotearoa's traffic light settings and broader COVID-19 rules in a fortnight, with ministers considering whether to shift the country to the green setting. 

"Obviously you will have heard us say that we are going to look at our settings post-winter and so that is what we are going to do," Ardern told reporters. 

"We've got to make sure the frameworks we are working in are fit for purpose at any given time. We did that obviously with the alert level system and we will do the same [again]." 

New Zealand is currently in the orange setting and has been for some time. But over the past few weeks, COVID-19 cases have been steadily dropping with just 2066 new community cases announced on Thursday. 

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