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Mass masking to avoid second lockdown

Gerrit Gray Doppenberg
face mask
Otago University researcher Amanda Kvalsvig is calling for mass masking to be part of the Covid-19 response alert levels.  Gerrit Doppenberg

A public health expert says "mass masking" is an alternative to lockdown measures should there be another Covid-19 breakout in New Zealand. 

Amanda Kvalsvig, a senior research fellow at the University of Otago's health department, said mass masking should be built into the alert level Covid-19 response system.

Kvalsvig, who authored an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal about mass masking, said New Zealand needed to plan ahead for a potential resurgence of the virus. Mass masking would curb community transmission, she said. 

Mass masking was not the same as medical masking, Kvalsvig said. Medical masking was designed to protect medical workers from virus exposure, whereas mass masking was designed to protect those around us.

Fabric masks are simple, sustainable and reusable.

Kvalsvig urged the government to follow the example set by Hong Kong where masks were available for free.

Unlike in other countries where mass masking has seen major public pushback, Kvalsvig suggested New Zealanders had "demonstrated a high level of trust in leadership and they adapted very well to the demands of lockdown".

"We have a very strong incentive... Masks could help us avoid another lockdown."

It appears there is some support for Kvalsvig's position. Health Minister Chris Hipkins last week advised citizens to have an emergency supply of masks, despite there being no community transmission. 

People should have a supply of masks "just as we are prepared by having food and water set aside in the event of a natural disaster", Hipkins said.