New mask mandates announced after Cabinet meeting

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Cabinet has decided to update mask mandates for the country as Omicron cases in the community increase.

Masks must now be worn at food and drink businesses, the PM said.

In practice, diners will now be asked to wear masks when getting up from a table to use the bathroom.

"We're also now requiring that a face covering be an actual mask."

This means the use of T-shirts pulled up over the mouth or other haphazard measures will be discouraged.

Children on publicly-funded school trips will be required to wear face masks, Ardern added.

"These adjustments will slow the spread of the virus."

The new rules take effect on Thursday, February 3.

Ardern said overseas evidence showed face mask use helped combat the spread of Omicron.

Ardern also said the source of the current Omicron outbreak may never be established, she said.

"We know from overseas experience that timeois of the essence with Omicron."

She urged anyone eligible for a booster shot to get one as soon as possible.

"As we saw with Delta around the world, high rates of vaccination ... play a major role in preventing widespread outbreaks."

Today, 10 new Omicron cases were reported and the variant has appeared in Tauranga after earlier being detected in Auckland and Motueka.

Cabinet was set to review the country's Covid-19 traffic light settings this afternoon as more people test positive for the Omicron variant.

Details about the booster shot rollout and rapid antigen tests (RATS) for essential service workers are likely to be announced in the next 24 hours.

Ardern addressed media at the Beehive this afternoon.

The country is in its second full day under nationwide red traffic light restrictions, where gatherings of more than 100 people are banned.

New Zealand is currently in the first stage of the Government's planned response to Omicron.

The stage is effectively the same elimination strategy used against earlier variants, but Ardern has signalled wiping out Omicron in the medium-term will not be possible.

As a result, the Government anticipates moving to a second, transitional stage once daily cases exceed 1000, perhaps in a few weeks.

The intermediate stage is so far not clearly defined but will include adjusting health measures to focus on people at greater risk of severe illness from Omicron.

The third stage, if cases are in the thousands, will redefine tracing, contacts and isolation requirements.

Some third stage details will probably be revealed tomorrow, when Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall and Bloomfield are expected to address media.

Genome sequencing experts have told the Herald that refining contact definitions and more efficiently tracking contacts will be essential to stop the tracing system failing under the strain of many cases.

Ardern on Sunday indicated advice on face mask use would be assessed and updated if necessary this week.

The PM said any change to mask advice would depend on evidence gathered from overseas about which masks were most effective against the virus.

The National Party today beseeched the Government to move fast on Covid-19 treatments, including the drugs Lagevrio and Paxlovid.

National's pandemic response spokesman Chris Bishop today said both these treatments were approved for use in Britain and the US.

"With Omicron now in our community and with cases likely to increase quickly, we need access to these next generation Covid-19 treatments fast."

He said initial results showed Paxlovid massively reduced hospital admissions among Covid-positive people who were at high risk of severe illness.

Bishop said New Zealand purchased 60,000 courses but Paxlovid was not approved here yet and supply would not arrive until April.

The US Food and Drug Administration said Paxlovid contained a medication to stop Covid-19 from replicating, and was taken as three tablets.

Medsafe's website today said Paxlovid was indicated for the treatment of adult patients with symptomatic confirmed Covid-19 infection.

"Pfizer has provided some data to Medsafe for the rolling assessment but still needs to provide further data as it becomes available," the Medsafe site added.






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