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Covid conundrums on campaign trail

Editorial

It was a first day of campaigning like no other in New Zealand's history as traditional meet-the-voters efforts came up against a conundrum: the Alert Level 2 requirement to observe social distancing, and whether or not to wear masks.

Television news showed a marked difference between the two main parties, with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and her MPs wearing masks in Auckland while the self-described Energizer bunny Judith Collins and her support team were mask-free and up-close-and-personal in the South Island.

Collins was enthusiastically holding babies as she pushed National's latest policy announcement, a $230 million boost for parental leave.

Meanwhile in Auckland Ardern took off her mask at a bricklaying plant to speak and also had to slightly sheepishly accept a lei, in a clear breach of the two metre separation guideline.

As TV One's Jessica Mutch-McKay pointed out, the Covid-19 situation as the levels stood yesterday was creating problems for campaigning.

Under Auckland's Level 2.5, gatherings are limited to 10 apart from tangihanga and funerals. Also, Aucklanders moving outside the province — as they have been able to do this week — are supposed to take their bubbles with them.

Ardern's team said she had not been living in Auckland so that would not apply to her, but Collins was prepared to go full-on mask-free as she held babies and shook hands in Ashburton.

As Mutch-McKay said, it would be galling for businesspeople struggling under the restrictions of the two levels, 2.5 and 2, to watch the politicians standing without masks in large gatherings.

Act's David Seymour was mask-free as he moved around Auckland meeting and greeting, while the small Opportunities Party launched its drug policy at a gathering outside a pop-up cannabis cafe in Wellington's Cuba Street. It backs a “Yes” vote in the upcoming cannabis referendum but wants some changes to the proposed legislation, such as regions being able to set local-area policies similar to how alcohol and pokies are regulated.

In the United States masks have become another dividing line between Democrats and many ultra-loyal supporters of President Donald Trump who steadfastly avoid them in the interests of “freedom”. We don't have the same situation here, but it will be fascinating to see how New Zealand's election campaign evolves in the middle of a pandemic.