The government is considering obligatory masks and QR code scanning, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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The government intends to investigate recommendations for required mask wear at warning levels two and above, as well as forced QR code scanning in high-risk zones.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a post-Cabinet media briefing this afternoon that Cabinet had commissioned advice on making QR code scanning required in select high-risk sites, and that Cabinet would examine that recommendation next week.

High-risk areas might include pubs and restaurants, as well as other places where individuals were at a higher risk, she added.

She also stated that the government would consider enforcing the use of face masks in locations with warning levels 2 and above, as well as in other high-risk areas. Wearing a mask is already required on public transportation.

“The rise of the Delta variant and the risk is poses to the trans-Tasman bubble means it’s timely to consider new measures for our tool box to strengthen the bubble and reduce the risk of Covid spreading in New Zealand,” she said.

“In order to get and keep in front of the virus we need to be able to contact trace quickly.”

A person using the Covid Tracer app

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

She said masks could stop the virus from spreading through droplets in air, and were useful when physical distancing was not possible.

“Emerging evidence and experience has shown it’s not hard for the virus to spread this way.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who was also present at the media briefing, said it was likely people could be fined if they were not complying with mandatory face covering instructions.

Use of app recently ‘consistently low’ – Ardern

Ardern said the Covid-19-positive Sydney traveller who arrived in Wellington had made thorough use of the Covid-19 app, and that had been valuable in tracing his movements and quickly identifying places of interest.

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However, while about 2600 people were estimated to have been at those places of interest, only 585 alerts were sent out to people who had used the NZ Covid Tracer app, she said, suggesting only a third of potential contacts of the case had used the scan into the locations of interest.

“Use of the app is consistently low across the country presently. New Zealand has gone from a peak of two million scans per day in the first half of September last year, to a low of 405,630 scans on June 7 this year, leaving us exposed in the event of cases in the community,” she said.

“We acknowledge that there will be some inconvenience associated with the idea of mandatory scanning, but it’s an inconvenience that pales compared to venues having to limit gatherings, physically distance people are having to shut their doors altogether.”

“We expect that over time requiring people to scan in would become a part of normal life.”

She said the approach had been to avoid restrictions as much as possible, unless needed.

“But with the inherent risks associated with the trans-Tasman [travel bubble] combined with the emergence of more transmissible strains, we should and will keep adjusting our footing.”

Alert levels and business support in Wellington

Ardern said Covid-19 resurgence support payments had been triggered with the extension of alert level 2 in the Wellington region and would soon be available to businesses and organisations facing a reduction in revenue.

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Applications for the payment, which gives businesses $1500 plus $400 per full-time equivalent employee required to isolate (up to 50 FTEs), will be able to be made from 8am on Thursday via IRD.

The level 2 limitations hampered Wellington companies, who told RNZ they were glad for the cash.

Cabinet convened yesterday and decided to keep Wellington on alert level 2 until 11:59 p.m. tomorrow. The suspension of quarantine-free travel has been extended to all of Australia and will remain for the same amount of time.

The warning level in Wellington was raised to 2 last Wednesday after a Sydney man who visited the region between June 18 and 21 tested positive for the highly contagious Delta strain upon his return to Australia.

His spouse has now tested positive, and the number of cases in New South Wales continues to rise.

The remainder of New Zealand is still on level 1 alert.

Ardern said closing the border to all of Australia was a rare occasion, as what happened in NSW had the potential to be a “starburst event”, where lockdowns may not have captured everyone who had been exposed.

“So just putting everything on hold gives us the chance to see whether or not that was something that occurred and whether it is safe to reopen.”

More testing urged for Wellington

Hipkins said he wanted to see higher testing numbers in Wellington.

Testing centres around the Wellington region were relatively quiet today despite plenty of encouragement from health officials for people to get tested.

On Saturday and Sunday respectively just 776 and 754 people were tested in the Greater Wellington region, compared with about 2000 to 3000 daily last week soon after the Sydney visitor’s positive Covid-19 result was announced.

An RNZ reporter who visited three testing sites today said Johnsonville was the busiest but is appointments only, the Hataitai testing centre near Wellington Rugby Club was not busy, and about 10 people were waiting in the queue at the Taranaki Street site.

In the meanwhile, calls to Healthline have been consistent. There were 3000 calls on Saturday and 2000 calls on Sunday, which is similar to the early stages of the most recent panic.

As of 9 a.m. this morning, 2597 contacts of the Sydney guy who came between June 18 and 21 had been identified, and 2273 of those had been examined.

Hipkins asked anyone who was feeling ill or had gone to an area of interest to come forwards.

About 200 contacts had not yet been tested, and another 100 were pending, he added.

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