Questions linger over why NZ isn't pursuing Cook Islands travel bubble

Author
Amelia Wade, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 11 Jun 2020, 6:02PM
Kiwis can travel to Rarotonga next week but will have to quarantine upon return to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Kiwis can travel to Rarotonga next week but will have to quarantine upon return to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

Questions linger over why NZ isn't pursuing Cook Islands travel bubble

Author
Amelia Wade, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 11 Jun 2020, 6:02PM

Pressure is mounting on the Government to allow a Pacific travel bubble, with the Cook Islands opening its borders to Kiwis.

High-level discussions are being held with some Pacific nations but Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has hinted there were bigger issues at play.

Before allowing travel, officials had to assess a country's maritime and aviation security measures, as well as how their health systems could cope with a possible Covid-19 outbreak, Peters said.

"Just as we are currently doing with Australia."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Travel (Mfat) said it was having high-level discussions about a potential "travel zone" with some Pacific nations but needed to manage risks.

The Cook Islands has never had a case of Covid-19 and while New Zealand has no active cases, officials haven't ruled out there could be asymptomatic people who could still spread the deadly virus.

From June 19, Kiwis will be able to head to the Cook Islands but they will still have to quarantine upon arrival back in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Henry Puna said his nation would be "the perfect test case" for New Zealand opening its borders to other countries.

"We are New Zealand citizens. We are part of New Zealand. We have New Zealand passports. We use New Zealand currency and we speak your language," Puna told Te Ao Māori.

"New Zealand and the Cook Islands are family. During difficult times, families look out for one another. These are those times. That's all we're asking from New Zealand. Look out for your family."

Cook Islands Private Sector taskforce chair Fletcher Melvin said he couldn't understand why New Zealand wouldn't open its borders up, especially given the only airline that flew there was Air New Zealand.

That meant risks could easily be managed, Melvin said.

"It's very confusing. We've had no clear answers."

New Zealand had obligations to the Cook Islands as it was one of the three Countries of the Realm.

If tourists weren't allowed, it would end up needing aid money as 87 per cent of their economy comes from tourism, Melvin said.

And Kiwi travellers spend about $20 million a year in the country.

Melvin estimated businesses could last another one or two months without tourism dollars.

Melvin said there was a rumour in the Cook Islands that New Zealand's domestic tourism sector had lobbied the Government about fears Kiwis would have their holidays there instead.

This was completely rejected by Tourism New Zealand.

For anyone planning a trip to Rarotonga with its open borders, they would still have to go into the Government-managed isolation upon their return.

Act leader David Seymour said it was "totally insane" New Zealanders travelling back from the Cook Islands would then need to quarantine as they'd never had a Covid-19 case.

"You'd have a much greater danger heading to Hamilton than to Rarotonga probably."

University of Auckland Pacific studies researcher Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath said she believed it was New Zealand's duty to open up the Pacific bubble first.

"Whilst I do understand the anxiety around Covid risks, the fact that a NZ-Australia bubble has been prioritised, where there are active cases, makes no sense at all, unlike those Pacific countries that are Covid free."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they were "working earnestly" on travel options between both Australia and the Pacific.

But she didn't say exactly why the Government was hesitant to open travel with the Pacific.