Covid-19: Cook Islands travel bubble ‘still open’, Chris Hipkins says

The Cook Islands travel bubble is “still open at this point”, after Wellington passengers were removed from an Air NZ flight to Rarotonga at the last minute.

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said he understood some passengers had been removed from the flight based on information supplied in their health declarations before boarding.

“Other than that, the bubble is still open at this point.”

When asked whether it was appropriate that the bubble was still open, Hipkins said: “That’s a decision for the Cook Islands Government.”

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Cook Islands Tourism general manager for NZ and Australia, Graeme West, told Stuff the Cook Islands Government was meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss the situation.

Ian Ryan and his partner were among the passengers removed from the flight on Thursday morning.

The couple were due to go on a 10-day holiday to the Cook Islands, a day after Wellington moved to alert level 2 after an Australian traveller tested positive for Covid-19.

The pair had flown from Wellington to Auckland early on Thursday for the 8.55am flight to Rarotonga.

Half the passengers were already on the plane when boarding abruptly stopped, and passengers were offloaded, Ryan said.

Ryan said they had no idea what was happening. Passengers were told there was a list of names of people who were not allowed to take the flight. That included passengers from Wellington, and others, he said.

“We were later told there was a mistake on that list and it was passengers from Wellington.”

Some passengers have been offloaded from a flight from Auckland to Rarotonga.

Ricky Wilson/Stuff

Some passengers have been offloaded from a flight from Auckland to Rarotonga.

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By that time the flight had departed, with some passengers who should have been on it left behind, he said.

An Air New Zealand spokesperson said the offloading was at the request of the Cook Islands Government.

“We were notified that the Cook Islands Government would not permit entry for certain passengers on NZ940 today.”

Air New Zealand directed Stuff to Cook Islands officials for further comment.

On Wednesday night the Cook Islands Government made the decision to keep the travel bubble with New Zealand open, Cook Islands News reported.

Te Marae Ora Cook Islands Ministry of Health spokesperson Jaewynn McKay was reported as saying extra precautions would be taken at Rarotonga Airport, and the ministry would be conducting risk assessments of passengers.

Ryan said he was considering heading back to Wellington after being left behind in Auckland.

However, he said Air New Zealand had told passengers they had to sort it out with Rarotongan immigration authorities themselves, and then tell Air New Zealand when they were safe to fly.

He and his partner were going to cancel their trip and try and get refunds.

“Air New Zealand said it’s up to us to find a new booking to Wellington, no compensation, nothing, just abandoned at the Auckland Airport.”

Stuff has approached the Ministry of Health for the Cook Islands for further comment.

Wellington moved to Covid-19 alert level 2 on Wednesday after a Sydney tourist who spent the weekend in the capital was found to have tested positive for Covid-19.

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