Covid 19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins nightmare at the podium: Bit of a mind blank

OPINION:

If there are any studies on brain fog as a consequence of Covid-19, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins could be a case study.

Hipkins had to apologise after a comedy of errors in the press conference in which he blamed a “bit of a mind blank” for forgetting what the rules for mask use were under the orange setting – even though they are the only rules that apply under the setting.

Hipkins started strongly, announcing the entire country would be moving to the promised land of the orange setting from Thursday morning. The only hiccup was saying that hospitalisations in Auckland had increased instead of decreased.

But it was not to last. “We are now coming off the peak,” Hipkins said triumphantly, before coming off the peak himself. The usually well-versed minister found himself foundering when it came to the rules for orange.

To the surprise of those listening, he declared masks were encouraged but would not be required in places such as flights or public transport.

He said the airlines might have their own rules but the Government’s rules had changed and they were not mandatory. He then encouraged people to familiarise themselves with these rules.

Alas, he was wrong, the rules had not changed. It was quite some time before he realised that himself – in fact he had time to add supermarket to the list of places masks were apparently not required by the time somebody messaged him to tell him he had got it wrong.

He retracted, admitted he had forgotten what the precise rules were and had not brought the list with him.

By now Hipkins’ face had moved to the red setting.

With a shamefaced smile, he pleaded with journalists to “just park masks for a moment” and move to other questions while he waited for the advice to be sent to his phone.

That eventually landed, long after journalists had googled it for themselves.

He announced he had indeed been wrong and masks were required on public transport and in shops and in supermarkets and in health centres and aged care centres, along with other places. “Sorry, I had a bit of a mind blank. I’ll own that.”

The information didn’t make life much easier for him.

Then came the probing of the logic behind the rules. A journalist asked why people could be “pashing on the dance floor” but still had to wear masks at the supermarket.

Hipkins, ever obliging, answered. “Ultimately it’s a question of volume. There are going to be a lot more people in the supermarket on a weekly basis than there will be out and about pashing on a dance floor.”

He later also conceded he did not think compliance would be very high if people were required to wear masks at the nightclub, but people could make their decisions accordingly. He himself would not go be going out clubbing.

Asked about it later, he admitted it was his fault: he had decided his written statement was too long so skipped a bit. Alas, it turned out to be quite an important bit.

Where you must wear a face mask at the orange setting

For Hipkins’ future reference and the sake of clarity, below are the places you must wear a face mask at the orange setting:

• on domestic flights

• on public transport, this includes Cook Strait Ferries but does not include passengers within their allocated carriage on specified Kiwirail services or when you are on a ship that does not have an enclosed space for passengers

• at indoor arrival and departure points for domestic flights and public transport

• if you are aged 12 years or over on Ministry of Education funded school transport and public transport

• in taxis or rideshare vehicles

• inside a retail business, for example supermarkets, shopping malls, pharmacies, petrol stations, and takeaway food stores

• inside public facilities, such as museums and libraries, but not at swimming pools

• at a vet clinic

• visiting the indoor area of a court or tribunal — unless the judicial officer does not require them

• at premises operated by local and central government agencies, social service providers, and NZ Police

• in the public area of premises operated by NZ Post Limited

• when visiting a healthcare service, for example a healthcare or aged-care facility.

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