Coronavirus: Dr Ashley Bloomfield reveals decisions on face masks, vaccines and changes to travel and gatherings for Level 2

 Coronavirus: Dr Ashley Bloomfield reveals decisions on face masks, vaccines and changes to travel and gatherings for Level 2

The country’s top health official is not keen on compulsory face masks in level 2, but urges those who do wear them to do so safely.

Speaking to Stuff about life in level 2, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield also revealed the country’s approach to vaccines was going to Cabinet for approval, while the previous rules on gatherings and travel for level 2, were under “active scrutiny” and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was expected to unveil those on Thursday.

And despite a huge focus on case numbers by the public, Bloomfield said a bump in new cases would not neccessarily stop a move down to level 2.

Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health had just updated its evidence review on face masks and would make it public shortly.

“Our current view is that we don’t believe there is evidence for, or that we should move to compulsory face mask wearing, but we will put advice out there if people want to use face masks … go ahead, but they should be aware of how to use them safely and avoiding the risk of the mask being a source of infection.”

This comes as Government advisor and University of Otago Epidemiologist Michael Baker has publicly called for mask-wearing.

The Government will today set out exactly what coronavirus alert level 2 will look like, should the country step down from level 3 next week.

Ardern will set out the rules for level 2 at her 1pm daily update alongside Bloomfield.

She has hinted that the Government could change the rules around gatherings for alert level 2.

Under the level 2 rules used before the full lockdown outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people were banned, while indoor gatherings of more than 100 were prohibited.

Bloomfield said this was under “very careful scrutiny” and under active review.

“There is a difference moving up the levels than moving down and remembering we actually moved up the levels very quickly. So going from mass gatherings of 40,000 down to 500 felt like a leap. Now going from gatherings of 10 to 500 feels like an equally large leap in the other direction.”

Travel through the country was also under active scrutiny, he said.

“We’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks about how people can travel safely and also remember that even if people were travelling between regions, the same expectations would apply to them in the region they travelled to, as their home region.”

He said there were two “critical” things he would be looking at before a move into Level 2.

He wanted a “population commitment” to maintaining key practises such as physical distancing, and not going out if unwell, he said.

The majority of people had abided by expectations in level 3, but he wanted to be confident they had not slacked off to the extent that there might be more infections out there.

“There is nothing to suggest that at the moment, which is good.”

The other area he would look at was the Epidemiology — the number of cases and where they were coming from.

“That has been a very reassuring picture – particularly this week with two days of zero cases and even the cases we had yesterday were clearly linked to a known source.”

“So we will want to be seeing if that continues through the latter part of this week … that will reflect us coming into alert level 3 with looser restrictions on travel and movement.” 

More cases in the coming days would not necessarily bring a halt to moving to level 2, he said.

A “yellow flag” would be raised, he said.

There had been several weeks of wider testing – asymptomatic and community testing – and this continued to reinforce the picture that there did not seem to be that community transmission that officials were not aware of, he said.

There had been two positive results from community testing – one was related to the Marist Cluster and the other was a worker at Auckland Airport that related back to the pre lockdown travel.

The virus had a “long tail” and officials had seen a number of people who did not feel like they had symptoms but a few weeks later, tested positive.

“We do want to be very alert to that because that does mean there could be some virus out there in the community. We have not eradicated it.”

It was not so much a concern but something the ministry wanted to stay on top of by continuing testing anyone with symptoms, he said.

The DHB’s surveillance testing plans would be pulled together on Friday and would include details about how they intend to do that over the coming weeks, he said.

Contact tracing was ready to go if there was a positive test in the community, he said.

“We will continue to do that if the decision is made to move to alert level 2.”

Even though the country did not have a tracing app, New Zealand was good enough at contact tracing, he said.

The more we see about the benefits  and challenges, the more it helps inform which route we go down… you can see from countries that are trying to do this, that it is not straight forward.


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