Leading epidemiologist Michael Baker says the new mask rules introduced in light of Omicron circulating in the community still are not strict enough.
The University of Otago professor, who had been calling for clarity around mask use for the highly-transmissible Covid-19 variant, told 1News one “key area” that was missing was the extension of mask use to all age groups of children.
He said children as young as two years old should be wearing them, just like the CDC’s recommendation in the US.
“Our biggest gap in immunity, in many ways, is younger children,” Baker said.
“It’s been partially filled by lowering the vaccine age to five. But, we’ve still got the younger age groups, many of whom are going to early childhood centres, and they won’t be protected by the vaccine.
“So, we need another barrier in the way of them getting infected.”
Current mask rules state all students Year 4 and up would need to wear masks when they head back to school, including on school and public transport.
Among the new mask rules announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday included minimum mask standards for those mandated to get the vaccine.
That meant the likes of health care professionals, teachers, and border and MIQ workers, would need to wear medical-grade masks while in public-facing roles.
"These include the widely available ‘blue’ medical-grade masks that many are already wearing," Ardern said, with three-layer tightly-woven cloth also allowed.
As for the public, they’re being told to wear an actual mask, rather than scarves and bandanas.
“A bandana is not good enough, a scarf won't provide you protection and a t-shirt definitely won't," Ardern said.
But Baker said mask rules for the public hadn’t been tightened enough.
“Simply saying a t-shirt and a bandana isn’t enough is not a great advance in mask use.”
For example, there weren’t minimum standards for fabric masks, Baker said.
“Beyond that, in many indoor situations, people will need respirator-style masks - the N95 or equivalent - if they’re going to have a good hope of preventing themselves from getting infected with Omicron.”
On Tuesday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said health authorities were not going to recommend N95 masks for the general public going about daily business as they were more expensive and harder to purchase.