Friday, 15 Oct 2021

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Mask wearing compliance high but ‘undercurrent of frustration’

A Tauranga shopper was forced to call the police while at a local supermarket after an unmasked shopper refused to put a mask on and screamed obscenities at staff.

This comes after the recent arrest of a man in Rotorua in level 2 restrictions after he allegedly refused to wear a mask and provide his identification details to the police.

Tauranga business owners and local business leaders say there has been a high level of compliance with the mandatory rule to wear face masks when visiting premises, but there was an “undercurrent of dissatisfaction”.

David Sutton was shopping at the Pak’nSave in Tauriko on Thursday afternoon when he witnessed an unmasked man screaming at staff.

“[The staff] should not have to put up with this nonsense. He just went crazy,” Sutton told the Bay of Plenty Times.

“He was abusive to the girl at the entrance and just went inside and went about his business doing his shopping.”

When Sutton reached the checkout he noticed the man again.

“I saw him being extremely offensive.”

That prompted Sutton to call the police.

“At the end of the day the staff were great but they aren’t getting paid enough to deal with that. It’s not right that staff are put in that position, it’s not fair.”

Tauranga Police South Area Response manager Senior Sergeant Eddie Lyttle said police received a report about 1.15pm on Thursday in relation to a person being verbally abusive towards staff and refusing to wear a mask at Pak’nSave Tauriko.

Police did not attend the incident.

Lyttle said the person has not been located or identified as yet. Inquiries are being made through CCTV footage.

“A decision will be made once inquiries completed what action will be taken.”

Head of corporate affairs at Foodstuffs NZ Antoinette Laird thanked the staff who “showed incredible patience and restraint towards this customer who was behaving in a very rude and unreasonable way”.

“It continues to be mandatory for all New Zealanders to wear a face-covering when visiting an essential service and therefore, following this breach, the police were called.

“The safety of our customers and teams is a top priority for us – and abusing our staff is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“We appreciate the protocols in place make shopping a bit challenging and we ask all our teams are treated with respect, they are simply doing their job to make sure New Zealanders stay safe.”

Meanwhile, a Tauranga security firm owner says there was vocal frustration with complying with level 2 restrictions when there were no Covid-19 cases in this region.

His comments come on the heels of last week’s arrest of a man in Rotorua after he allegedly refused to wear a mask and provide his identification details to the police.

Watchdog Security Group personnel operate at up to 20 sites in Tauranga and Rotorua.

Owner Brett Wilson said generally there was a high level of compliance with mask-wearing at those sites with no major problems for security staff monitoring mask-wearing

However, Wilson said a lot of people were “reluctantly” wearing masks rather than happily accepting that it was a mandatory requirement directed by the Government.

“A lot more people are expressing their frustration about why they need to wear a mask and also remaining in alert level 2 when there are no Delta cases in this region.”

There was definitely an “undercurrent of dissatisfaction” over these restrictions and some people were finding it “very tough” which was impacting on their mental wellbeing.

Nutech Security’s managing director Keith Margan said he received daily reports about any incidents from his security guards and so far there had been no issues of this nature.

Margan said his guards operated at various premises in Tauranga and Rotorua under the Covid-19 protocols and in line with the client’s requirements, which included mask-wearing for staff and customers.

However, he said enforcement of the Covid-19 orders was the role of the police and any major incidents of non-compliance would result in the police being notified.

“It is important that people understand our guards are just doing their job.”

Downtown Tauranga manager Brian Berry said he had not had any major complaints from businesses in the CBD about wearing masks, although a couple of stores had reported turning customers away for not wearing a mask without further incident, he said.

“From my observations in and around the CBD, quite surprisingly most people are wearing masks out in public which is great to see.

“I think 99.9 per cent of people are playing ball which is very pleasing. It is really important that customers do so shopkeepers can keep operating their businesses.

“While we don’t have any Delta cases in Tauranga, it is no time for any complacency.”

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Matt Cowley said most people were okay when it came to wearing masks others needed reminding.

In terms of hospitality businesses such as local cafes, bars and restaurants there was some confusion in terms of what was required until alert level 2, Cowley said.

The rule is that you don’t have to wear a mask while eating and drinking at a table, but you do have to wear one when you get up to go to the toilet or visit the bar to pay.

Sometimes people forget because they are so excited about going back to their favourite local cafe or restaurant. It happens, even I forgot once,” Cowley said.

“We shouldn’t beat up anyone who does forget and a gentle reminder is all that should be needed but it is very important that we do the right thing.”

Cowley said business owners particularly in hospitality, were extremely stressed over the mask-wearing and contact tracing restrictions and including financially.

“They are really worried about the impact on their livelihood if they were caught out with any customers not wearing a mask inside their premises,” he said.

“These are not business owners’ rules and they are only complying with the law to ensure they can keep operating.

“It’s their livelihood, after all, that’s at stake. If people do have issues with wearing masks perhaps they should choose to eat and socialise at home or a friend’s house.”

Dry Dock Cafe owner Kim Ort said it was incredibly hard for her staff to have to wear masks all day and speaking to customers while doing so can also be challenging at times.

“Most of our customers have been incredibly compliant about mask-wearing while is really good but there has been the odd person who has forgotten to do so.

“Some people genuinely find it difficult wearing masks and we take a compassionate approach to gently remind them why it is so important to do so,” she said.

Ort said prior to reopening at alert level 2 she and her staff did some training including role-playing around what to do if someone refused to wear one.

Bayfair Shopping Centre manager Steve Ellingford said there had not been a major Covid-19 issues at the centre aside from one person being refused entry during alert level 4.

Ellingford said he receives regular reports from the security guards and customer service staff and he had no reported incidents which would result in the police being called.

A police spokesperson said during alert level 4, seven people were charged with 10 offences relating to breaching the Covid-19 restrictions in the Bay of Plenty District.

During alert level 3, two people were charged in the Bay of Plenty District with two offences, but the exact details were not readily available, the spokesperson said.

“Police across the country are reminding people to stick with the rules. We are relying on people to do the right thing, for the safety of all of us.

“Alert level 2 this time has some new restrictions, such as the wearing of face coverings, and mandatory record-keeping at venues.

“Most people are complying with these restrictions, and the police thank the majority who are doing their bit. We continue to recommend people scan in using the QR code or sign in everywhere they go and wear a face covering while out and about.

“Police aim to operate pragmatically and with a high-trust approach regarding the new rules. We will take an education-first approach but will use enforcement where necessary.”

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