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New Zealand considers mandatory masks, QR code scanning amid COVID-19 Delta variant concerns

New Zealand considers mandatory masks, QR code scanning amid COVID-19 Delta variant concerns

People wearing face masks wait for a bus in Auckland, New Zealand, Aug 31, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Fiona Goodall)

WELLINGTON: New Zealand is considering making masks compulsory at high alert levels as well as compulsory scanning of QR codes to boost contact tracing in efforts to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday (Jun 28). 

New Zealand halted quarantine-free travel with neighbouring Australia last week as an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant triggered a lockdown in Sydney and renewed restrictions elsewhere.

It also extended the COVID-19 alert level 2 in the capital Wellington until Tuesday, as authorities said there was still a risk that an Australian tourist who tested positive for the coronavirus after visiting the city last weekend had infected others.

READ: New Zealand suspends travel bubble with Australia as COVID-19 cases rise in Sydney

The resurgence of COVID-19 in Australia caused significant disruptions in New Zealand, Ardern said at a news conference.

"The rise of the Delta variant and the risk it poses to the trans-Tasman bubble means it's timely to consider additional measures for our toolbox to strengthen the bubble and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in New Zealand," Ardern said.

Ardern said the cabinet had asked for advice on making QR code scanning compulsory in high-risk locations like bars and restaurants. It is also considering mandating face masks at alert level 2 or higher in locations deemed to be high-risk.

READ: Sydney, Australia's largest city, in 2-week hard COVID-19 lockdown

Currently, masks are only mandatory on public transport. The latest disruptions have hurt businesses in Wellington and around the country, as Australian tourists travelling for southern hemisphere winter breaks cancelled bookings.

Ardern said pausing the trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia was necessary to avoid more COVID-19 positive cases arriving in the country and leading to further restrictions.

New Zealand is among only a handful of countries that has contained the spread of COVID-19 within its borders. Its last community case was in February.

There were no new coronavirus cases in the community on Monday, authorities said, while there were 10 cases in managed isolation facilities.

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Source: Reuters/vc

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