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Mask exemptions ‘a flashpoint’ for store staff, says Retail NZ

(Source: Bigstock.)

Government changes to Covid rules impacting retailers have been welcomed by retailers – but a sticking point remains over mask exemptions. 

Greg Harford, Retail NZ CEO, said the continued requirement for customers to wear masks – while effectively making them optional via an incredibly loose self-exemption process – creates significant tension, “and a flashpoint of aggression for many customers”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday confirmed that customers of cafes, hairdressers and beauty services would no longer be required to scan QR codes and present vaccine passes. 

However, people are still required to wear masks in these venues, setting a scene for widespread confusion, says Harford.

“At the moment, the government is telling us that it is important to wear masks. Despite months of pleading from Retail NZ about the levels of aggression and stress the current scheme creates for retail workers’ mental health and wellbeing, the government is not prepared to put in place a proper process for managing mask exemptions,” he said.

“Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Kiwis are claiming to be exempt from the mask requirement, yet there is no formal process for verifying this with medical doctors.”  

He said moving to ”a greater sense of normality” is a good thing for the retail sector, especially as many consumers have been reluctant to go out and shop in recent months because they fear Covid.

“It’s great news that we are now moving closer to normality, and it’s particularly good news that Vaccine Passes will no longer be required in cafes, hairdressers, barbers and beauty services. Moving away from restrictions is a signal to customers that people can get out and about, and Retail NZ is encouraging customers to support local businesses,” said Harford.

“If the government truly believes masks remain important, then it needs to tighten up significantly on the exemption process. Equally, if masks are no longer required as an effective tool to manage Covid-19, then the government should simply make them optional.”

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