COVID-19: Why airline crews aren't required to wear face masks in public

Airline crews returning on international flights aren't required to wear masks in public because they have "well-tried and tested procedures" that help keep them safe from COVID-19, the Director-General of Health claims.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said airlines have a very strong interest in keeping their staff and travellers safe, and Air New Zealand in particular has a process it's followed since the virus began to look after passengers and crew.

"If they've come back internationally, no, [crews are] not necessarily [required to wear a mask]," Bloomfield said on Monday.

"I do know - and again I spoke this morning with the medical director of Air New Zealand - they have really well-tried and tested procedures which started when we did that first evacuation flight out of Wuhan… I don't think there's any reason why they would need to be wearing masks around the community."

Masks were made compulsory to wear on all trans-Tasman flights earlier in June after Dr Bloomfield became concerned international flights transiting in Australia could pose an infection risk to New Zealanders travelling home.

The only crews who need to self-isolate for a period of time and return a negative test are ones flying in from Los Angeles, Dr Bloomfield said. He didn't confirm on Monday whether other crews are also required to do this.

Also on Monday, Dr Bloomfield ruled out mandatory mask-wearing for everyone when they're in public, and said there are more important health measures that can be taken instead.

"There is no doubt that mass-masking may play a role should we get community transmission again and if we're trying to break that community transmission.

"Particularly in confined places, and that's one of the reasons for example we are now requiring the use of masks or asking people to use masks when they're travelling on aircraft into the country."

He said there's consensus from public health experts that since there's no community transmission in New Zealand at the moment, there's no particular reason to make wearing masks compulsory.

"I think that there are other more important things we can and should be doing at the moment than mass-masking, but it's certainly not off the table."