Ashburton taxi drivers ready for new mask rules

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Ashburton Taxis drivers have masks at the ready for new rules coming into effect Monday.
The new rules say passengers must wear masks on public transport but in small passenger vehicles such as taxis and Uber, it is the drivers who will be required to wear masks.

Ashburton Taxis’ Graeme Bentley understood the reasoning behind not enforcing passengers to wear masks.

He said drivers would be required to wear masks, but customers did not have to wear a mask, although they could if they preferred.
‘‘It’s a hard one that actually … it’s too hard to police. If you get someone who has been drinking or doing other substances how do you react to (them not wearing a mask) when you’re in an enclosed area, at night.
‘‘It is a very hard one to police. I can understand the reasoning but where is the line drawn,’’ he said.

The company, which operates 24/7, has a fleet of three mobility vans and five cars, although not all are on the road at the same time.
Drivers were already equipped with masks for their use and also had sanitiser on board to wipe down surfaces.

‘‘We are set to go. We have masks and the drivers are aware of the fact that it’s compulsory and mandated,’’ he said.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins, announcing further rules on mask use, said the advice on Ubers and taxis was that public health gains were minor compared to the impact on those companies and it would be hard to enforce.

He said wearing a face covering on public transport such as trains, buses and ferries and aircraft, was the right thing to do and would help keep New Zealanders safe from Covid-19.
From Monday it will be compulsory for everyone nationwide aged 12 and over to wear a face covering on public transport and planes under Alert Level 2 and above.

‘‘I know this is big change and will take some getting used to but it is a small thing we can all do that helps us get back to the freedoms of Level 1,’’ Mr Hipkins said.

He said the advice from health officials was the use of face coverings could reduce the risk of people spreading Covid-19, particularly where it is hard to maintain physical distance from others.
Masks and face coverings do not replace physical distancing – they complement other public health measures.

‘‘We want to make this as easy as possible, so any form of face covering will do. If you don’t have a mask you can use a scarf or bandana,’’ he said.
Face coverings should be worn on public transport and aircraft but do not need to be worn by children under 12, on school buses, on charter or group tours, on interisland ferries, on private flights or by private contractors of air services such as top-dressers

People with a disability or physical/mental health condition that makes covering their face unsuitable, do not have to wear face coverings also.
There will be other times when it is not required – such as in an emergency, if unsafe, if people need to prove their identity or to communicate with someone who is deaf, or if required by law.

Not wearing a face covering on public transport will become an offence, punishable by a $300 infringement notice or a fine of up to a $1000 imposed by the courts.
Mr Hipkins said because New Zealand did not have a mask-wearing culture in New Zealand it would take some time to get used to and he suggested wearing one should become something like ‘‘buckling up’’ when you get into a car.

People were encouraged people to explore buying alternatives to single-use masks if they can afford to, or to fashion a mask or face covering from things found at home.
Advice on different types of face coverings are available online.