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Aucklanders fed up with lockdown will be holding their breath for today’s Covid-19 alert levels announcement.
Those in our largest city have had the heaviest lockdown load during the pandemic and will be looking forward to going to Level 3, even if that is sometimes described as Level 4 with takeaways.
South of Auckland, many affected by the 50-person limit on gatherings under Level 2 will be hoping Cabinet will approve the increase, flagged by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week, to 100 too. That will still not be ideal for some businesses, but at least it will be another step in the direction of more freedom.
It was heartening to hear Health Minister Andrew Little suggest at the weekend it is unlikely nationwide lockdowns will be used for future outbreaks.
He has indicated there may need to be some regional restrictions during any extensive out-of-control outbreaks, but he said he would be surprised "if we ever see a Level 4 lockdown again. Level 3 becomes problematic too".
Having a high level of the population fully vaccinated will be the key to the country moving away from lockdowns, but other measures such as QR code scanning or other record keeping for contact tracing, high levels of testing, and mask wearing will still be required.
It has taken us a long time to increase the use of masks and the Government’s messaging around this has not always been straightforward.
At Level 1 when masks were required for adults on buses, in Dunedin compliance was lackadaisical and there seems to have been no appetite for any sort of policing of the requirement.
Masks are more widely seen in Level 2 now they are mandatory for shops and other places including libraries, but some of the messaging is still confused.
Pupils aged 12 and over and students at tertiary education facilities are strongly encouraged by the Government to "wear a face covering, but it is not required".
Already we have had reports that mask wearing by secondary school pupils is patchy. That is no surprise, given the wishy-washy nature of the advice.
Even if it had been mandated it might have been difficult to get pupils to comply, as any teacher who has battled to get school uniforms worn correctly by all will understand.
And, since it is not compulsory, we must rely on pupils somehow seeing it as cool. While some teenagers might want to stand out from the crowd, many will be unwilling to wear a mask if nobody else is doing it.
In the South, where we have had limited exposure to Covid-19 outbreaks, it will also be difficult for pupils to grasp there is any risk.
There would also be logistical issues about making masks mandatory as Aotea College principal Kate Gainsford has pointed out.
Pupils would have to buy or make masks, remember to bring them, clean them or dispose of them and then someone would have to police the wearing of them.
"That’s a pretty big mission," she said.
Porirua College received 2000 masks for pupils and their families from Rotary’s One Million Masks campaign which is providing masks to schools and communities in need in New Zealand and the Pacific.
The masks provided are the same design as those worn by the New Zealand athletes at this year’s Olympics. They are white, which may seem impractical, but pupils at the college are being encouraged to personalise them by providing their own decoration.
There will be other ways of encouraging pupils to wear masks: involving them in making them, having class competitions and so on, but schools must also be careful that those who are unable to wear masks are not stigmatised in the process.