Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shares a hongi with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown in Auckland yesterday. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is under fire for taking longer than she had indicated to make moves on the two-way travel bubble with the Cook Islands.
Speaking to media with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, Ardern revealed the two Governments were working towards a bubble start date in May.
This is despite saying in December that the Government was aiming for the bubble to be opened before April.
There are also problems on the domestic front: New Zealand’s head of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) has begun an investigation into the factors that led to a Covid-positive person being put on a bus with other returnees without the virus, after coming back from an exercise excursion.
Ardern was in Auckland yesterday, meeting with Brown – the first international world leader to come to New Zealand since the pandemic began.
After their meeting, she said the Cook Islands success in managing Covid-19 had been “hard-won” and had “come at a price”.
The Cook Islands – which relies heavily on tourism – has seen its GDP contract by 20 per cent because of the drop-off in international travel.
Brown was upbeat about the prospects of the bubble.
“We have asked for a date for the commencement of [the bubble] … and I’m happy that the month of May is where we’re indicating that travel will begin between our two countries.”
But not everyone is so optimistic – National’s Covid-19 response spokesman, Chris Bishop, said the wait is not good enough.
“The Cooks are Covid-free. The time to get on with it was months ago, not at some vague time in the future.”
He pointed out that in a December press release from Ardern she had asked for the two-way travel bubble to already be in operation.
She said both she and Brown had asked their officials to “work together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of 2021.”
“In the meantime,” Bishop said, “tourism businesses will go under”.
But since Ardern’s first Cooks commitment, Auckland has gone into lockdown twice as it battled community transmission.
Ardern spoke frankly about this during her stand up with Brown: “We [New Zealand] pose the risk.
“We are the ones that may potentially export cases so we see ourselves as having to carry a lot of responsibility to get that right.”
Meanwhile, the head of all MIQ facilities, Brigadier Jim Bliss, has commissioned an investigation into an incident where 23 people were bussed to an area for exercise while one of those people was Covid-19 positive.
This has meant 14 people have had to stay in MIQ for a further 14 days, since the day of their exposure.
The group was returning from an exercise excursion, where returnees are able to go for a walk.
News that the one individual was Covid-positive happened while they were on the excursion.
“I commissioned an investigation to determine what happened and what improvements, if any, can be made to strengthen our processes,” Bliss said.
He also revealed that on Thursday night he put a 24-hour pause on the bussing of returnees to managed isolation walks.
“This will allow the staff the opportunity to review their processes and ensure that the protocols are appropriate.”
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield also had an update on the Grant Millennium cleaner who tested positive for Covid-19 this week.
Their household contact has reported a second negative Covid-19 test.
All other contacts have returned negative tests.