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All at Level 1, with more mask wearing

Editorial

The latest Covid-19 outbreak is contained and Auckland is back with the rest of the country at Alert Level 1 as of today, although once again the source of the leak into the community, the 11th since August, remains a mystery.

Calls to make the alert level system more sophisticated — in line with growing knowledge of the virus that causes Covid-19 and the fact that new, more transmittable variants are now predominant among cases at the border — have been rejected by the Government.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told RNZ this morning that the simplicity of the system was a strength, as the public understood it. There was also scope to make changes such as the mandating of face masks on public transport at Alert Levels 1 and 2.

This important new step to mitigate risks has been introduced today nationwide, including for taxi and Uber drivers; with exemptions for children under 12, people with certain medical conditions and for food service on flights.

Cabinet yesterday considered making QR code scanning mandatory but decided to seek further advice, as there were a number of issues to work through. Hipkins said they would be looking at all ways to increase the use of QR codes.

Public health experts have said compulsion should start with mandatory scanning at potential “super-spreader” venues, such as bars and nightclubs.

There have also been repeated calls to “turn down the tap” of returnees from high-risk countries, something the Government doesn't want to entertain. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also poured cold water on the idea of purpose-built quarantine facilities for up to 6000 people outside our main cities, labelling it a “significant ask”.

The points have already been made that such facilities would be an insurance policy for future pandemics, and while expensive would cost a lot less than putting Auckland into more lockdowns.

Of course, the best mitigation for Covid-19 arrived in the country last week in a first instalment of vaccine vials, and what will become our biggest ever immunisation programme is under way for border, managed isolation and quarantine workers and their families.

Meanwhile, America today marks 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 — something our columnist ignores as the actual cause of constant tension and anxiety in the country, and which a former President mishandled at almost every turn.