Opinion | The Mask of Responsibility

When Omicron breached the border and the country settled into the Red Light restrictions, the New Zealand government made changes to its mask-wearing protocol.

All workers who were legally mandated to be vaccinated (such as hospitality workers in businesses using a vaccine pass) had to start wearing medical-grade masks. It made sense, experts around the world have agreed that the basic cloth mask is not good enough to stop the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“This is what scientists and public health officials have been saying for months, many months, in fact. We need to be wearing at least a three-ply surgical mask.”

Jacinda Ardern has repeated this message, so has Dr Ashley Bloomfield and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

Why then, are we still seeing so many people in the public eye not wearing the right masks?

From politicians to news reporters, many of the people with a public responsibility to be leaders and role models are still wearing cloth masks, and some aren’t wearing their mask properly at all.

If the government wants hard-hit sectors such as hospitality to wear the right masks without any financial support under the current Traffic Light System, surely, they must lead by example. Otherwise, it’s just a continuation of the mixed messages the government has been accused of sending out since the pandemic began.

Journalists and public facing reporters also need to take responsibility for the message they give and visibly support public health measures that have been proven to work so we can all get back to living our lives as normally as possible, with COVID and its variants disappearing in our rear-view mirror.