New Zealand considers mandatory masks, scanning amid COVID Delta variant concerns

People jog past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand's new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure that mandates wearing of a mask on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall/File Photo

WELLINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) - New Zealand is considering making masks compulsory at high alert levels as well as compulsory scanning of QR codes to boost contact tracing in efforts to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand halted quarantine-free travel with neighbouring Australia last week as an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant triggered a lockdown in Sydney and renewed restrictions elsewhere. read more

It also extended the COVID-19 alert level 2 in the capital Wellington until Tuesday, as authorities said there was still a risk that an Australian tourist who tested positive for the coronavirus after visiting the city last weekend had infected others. read more

The resurgence of COVID-19 in Australia caused significant disruptions in New Zealand, Ardern said at a news conference.

"The rise of the Delta variant and the risk is poses to the trans-Tasman bubble means it's timely to consider additional measures for our toolbox to strengthen the bubble and reduce the risk of COVID spreading in New Zealand," Ardern said.

Ardern said the cabinet had asked for advice on making QR code scanning compulsory in high-risk locations like bars and restaurants. It is also considering mandating face masks at Alert Level 2 or higher in locations deemed to be high-risk.

Currently masks are only mandatory in public transport.The latest disruptions have hurt businesses in Wellington and around the country, as Australian tourists travelling for southern hemisphere winter breaks cancelled bookings.

Ardern said pausing the trans-Tasman travel 'bubble' with Australia was necessary to avoid more COVID positive cases arriving in the country and leading to further restrictions.

New Zealand is among only a handful of countries that has contained the spread of COVID-19 within its borders. Its last community case was in February.

There were no new coronavirus cases in the community on Monday, authorities said, while there were 10 cases in managed isolation facilities.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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