Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand’s Covid traffic light system will be scrapped and, as of today, restrictions will end.
There is no longer a requirement to wear a mask, except in health settings which include doctor’s clinics, pharmacies, hospitals, and rest homes.
There may still be other places that will ask you to wear a mask, but this will be at the venue’s discretion, not a Government mandate.
But how does this decision affect our most vulnerable?
Becki Moss, a video storyteller living in Tāmaki Makaurau, is a high risk individual living with severe hypertension and a chronic kidney disease.
“I can’t say I was surprised [by the announcement], but it still feels like a slap in the face,” Becki says.
“A lot of people in my position have stayed away from things that are by choice, such as going to events, gigs or concerts.
“But having the mask mandate taken away from public transport, supermarkets, and other necessities that are a basic part of living is really disappointing.”
Becki says she could understand the removal of mask mandates if the Government first put more protocols in place to protect the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable.
“To take away the masks without having a backup option to keep those spaces safer is really frustrating.”
Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, epidemiologist at the University of Otago, says that air quality standards is one way the Government could be protecting immunocompromised and high risk people after scrapping mask mandates.
“Indoor ventilation and air filtration are now urgent public health priorities for New Zealand and the good news is they really work,” Kvalsvig says.
Kvalsvig says that since measures such as improved indoor ventilation are yet to be implemented, immunocompromised and high risk individuals are now having to choose whether they want to enter spaces that might pose a serious risk to their health.
“Government has a duty to ensure that all New Zealanders can safely access work, education, health, and social settings,” she says.
“[Removing mask mandates] mean that disabled and immune-compromised people will now be sharing public spaces with unmasked people who could be a household contact of a case and actively infectious.”
Today, #Mask4YourMates has been number one on Trending in New Zealand on Twitter as people show support for our most vulnerable.
“I fear that I would die”
Val C, a 22 year old from Hamilton, is immunocompromised, living with type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
“I fear that I would die if I got Covid, because it’s a very real possibility,” they say.
“When I go to the supermarket and I see people not wearing masks, it gives me panic attacks because I start fearing for my life.”
Val says scrapping the mask mandates shows a “lack of respect” for immunocompromised and high risk individuals.
“I know that I'm not going to be able to force people to wear masks, but [I’m asking the general public] to have some thought for the people that are actually affected.
“During lockdowns, a lot of people talked about how they can’t get a coffee - I can’t do anything. A lot of people don’t understand that and it’s terrifying.”
Becki says she doesn’t think people realise how isolating it is being a high risk individual.
“Moving from being the team of 5 million to every man for himself has been very, very isolating.
“If we're going to live with [Covid-19], we have to live with it properly and with measures that can be taken to keep everyone safe.”
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