The Cook Islands will not reopen travel to New Zealand until there has been no community transmission of Covid-19 for 14 days and travellers over 12 have been fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Mark Brown says.
Cook Islands borders have been closed to New Zealand for more than three weeks since the first Delta case was first reported on August 16 in Auckland.
The country’s government closed off travel immediately, only allowing Kiwis in the Cook Islands to return.
Brown said the decision by his Cabinet might be disappointing to many, but those people now had at least some indication of when tourism may resume.
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He said that at some point in the future, all countries would have to live with Covid-19. However, that time wasn’t now for Cook Islanders, as they closely monitor New Zealand’s Delta outbreak and vaccination programme.
Cook Islands hotel owner Richard Vinsen says the past 15 months have been difficult but he’s hopeful the New Zealand travel bubble will revive the country’s fortunes.
“As one of the few countries in the world that has managed to keep Covid-19 out, we do not want to do anything to jeopardise the safety of our people,” Brown said.
“While we acknowledge that at some point in the future all countries will need to learn to live with Covid-19, that time has not yet come.
“We do not want an outbreak here. The impact on our health resources as well as our economy would be devastating.”
Brown said his government was doing everything possible to protect the health and wellbeing of Cook Islanders as well as the country’s economy.
More than 300 Cook Islanders stranded in New Zealand would have to wait until at least next Tuesday to find out if they could return home.
Brown said his government was looking at repatriation flights from Christchurch for those outside of Auckland in level 2 areas, but no dates had been set yet.
Those travellers would need to provide a negative Covid-19 test 72 hours before departure, complete a Cook Islands managed return application form and undergo a seven-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival into Rarotonga.
Brown said because of the risk of Covid-19, Cook Islanders in Auckland had to wait for a drop to level 2 or below before being allowed to catch a flight home.
His Cabinet would continue to review new information and advice from its health authorities when vaccination numbers increase in New Zealand.
“We have certainly viewed all considerations, as the [New Zealand] community builds up resilience and as the level of people vaccinated increase.”
The impact of the pandemic on Cook Islands tourism and its economy had been significant, and outbreaks in New Zealand have been disruptive to growth, he said.
Funding of $15 million has been earmarked for additional support to Cook Islands businesses from the June budget.
Wage subsidies would continue for September and business grants, including sole trader grants, would be reinstated for October.
“We know that our tourism market is resilient and so too is our economy. We saw how fast tourism bounced back in May, and it will happen again.”
Any Cook Islands residents in Auckland who require additional assistance are urged to contact the Cook Islands High Commission in New Zealand.
Further information would be provided about enhanced support to these stranded residents, Brown said.