Live: PM announces Cook Islands travel bubble to commence May 17

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 3 May 2021, 3:54PM
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Live: PM announces Cook Islands travel bubble to commence May 17

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 3 May 2021, 3:54PM

New Zealand's quarantine-free travel bubble with the Cook Islands will begin on May 17.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the start date at a post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon.

This will be based on a clear set of criteria being met, she said. The health and safety of the people of the Cook Islands had been paramount in all the work to ready the bubble.

"Two-way quarantine-free travel is a significant step in both countries' Covid-19 recovery, and a direct result of both New Zealand and the Cook Islands' successful response to the pandemic," Ardern said.

"It will mean families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands' tourism sector and recovery.

"That we can take this step in our recovery so soon after opening the trans-Tasman bubble highlights the benefits of our Covid-19 management, and the opportunities it is now providing New Zealand and our neighbours."

 

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said: "The confirmation of May 17 for the commencement of two-way quarantine-free travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is the result of our uncompromising commitment to ensuring all necessary health and border measures are instituted to the highest standards of protection against Covid-19 prior to commencement.

"In close partnership with New Zealand, we are continuing to work through final details for the deployment of vaccines to the Cook Islands and expect to provide further details on the vaccine rollout within the next week few weeks."

Ardern said if there was an outbreak in the Cook Islands, the Government would be more likely to charter a flight to bring Kiwis home.

She said the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine in the Cook Islands is likely to commence this month, but there are still details to be finalised.

Travellers will have to have been in either the Cook Islands or New Zealand for at least 14 days before travel. This means anyone wanting to travel between Australia and the Cook Islands would need to spend at least 14 days in New Zealand in the middle.

There will be no requirement for a pre-departure Covid-19 test, but travellers will have to complete a travel declaration, provide a health declaration and there will be random health checks at airports.

Flights will be operating as 'green', with measures in place through the traveller journey to keep travellers separate from 'red' flights in and out of New Zealand where passengers need to enter MIQ.

Brown had planned a Facebook Live update earlier today, but has twice pushed the timing back and it is now scheduled for 6pm (NZT).

Speculation this morning was for the bubble starting at about May 15 in the Cook Islands, which is Sunday, May 16 NZT.

A start date would be good news for both countries, but particularly the Cook Islands because Kiwis traditionally make up a significant portion of the tourism business there.

"We wanted to make sure when we do it, we got it right," Ardern told Newshub this morning.

"We didn't want to run the risk of exporting [Covid-19] to the Cook Islands, which has been Covid-free."

Cook Islands media have also reported that today's announcement would reveal a two-way travel bubble opening up around May 15.

Passengers from the Cook Islands have been able to travel to New Zealand quarantine-free since the end of January, but the Government has been concerned about the risk of travellers taking Covid there.

The measles epidemic in Samoa in 2019 and the number of escalating daily Covid-19 cases in Papua New Guinea this year underlined the risk of exporting the virus to the Cook Islands.

When Brown and Arden met in Auckland at the end of May, there was still caution over the lack of health infrastructure there.

The key boxes to be ticked included contact-tracing capability and the regular testing of border workers in the Cook Islands.

A PCR testing lab to trace and test air passengers arriving in Rarotonga has been another condition of the bubble.

Concerns over health infrastructure can also be mitigated by a vaccination rollout to the Cook Islands, which New Zealand would run.

Ardern has previously said New Zealand had secured enough vaccines for all of New Zealand as well as the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Air NZ already selling return flights

Private sector taskforce chairman Fletcher Melvin told the Cook Islands News publication that a Government source had confirmed a May 15 start date.

Air New Zealand has flights to Rarotonga available from next Monday, May 10, with one of the cheapest return fares being $613.