“New Zealand has provided support to help achieve that status, but ultimately it would not have been achieved without the initiative of the Cook Island people and Government themselves.”

Ardern acknowledged the Cook Islands’ success in managing COVID-19 has been “hard won and no question it’s come at a price”, alluding to the huge loss of tourism income.

“We discussed that today,” she said. “We’ve agreed to continue to progress the remaining work to ensure safe two-way quarantine-free travel. There has been significant work with preparedness, and we are currently working in earnest towards a May commencement.”

Ardern said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has advised that beginning COVID-19 vaccinations will add to the safe opening of quarantine-free travel with the Cooks. 

“Cabinet will be working with our Cook Island counterparts to expedite that joint vaccination plan over the coming weeks,” Ardern said.

The Government recently reprioritised its development assistance budget to make available $20 million in additional support for the Cook Islands this financial year.

The Government is also committed to offering vaccines to the Cooks when they are available. In December, $75 million was committed to provide vaccine support to the Pacific and global initatives.