Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown has been officially welcomed to New Zealand by Jacinda Arden in Auckland.
Brown, the first international leader officially welcomed into the country since the coronavirus struck, was accorded a Māori welcome at the Auckland War Memorial Museum grounds by Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei, who performed a wero and powhiri.
The Royal New Zealand Navy provided a 100-man guard of honour.
A travel bubble and Covid-19 vaccination are likely to be at the top of the agenda in Friday’s talks between the Cook Islands and New Zealand prime ministers, Mark Brown and Jacinda Ardern, in Auckland.
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Both leaders had aimed for two-way quarantine-free travel by the end of March, but after two level 3 lockdowns since Auckland’s February cluster, that was unlikely to happen.
There is currently one-way travel allowed from Rarotonga, which began in January, with no quarantine required for new arrivals into New Zealand.
Brown said before his arrival he was hoping to progress active discussions on two-way travel in his discussions with Ardern.
He said he would be working very hard to secure a confirmed new date for the two-way quarantine-free travel.
“There is no one who wants those borders open more than me, both as the prime minister and as the minister of finance,” Brown said.
“I know better than anyone the costs our business community is bearing.”
Cook Islands recently took another step to strengthening travel opportunities with the roll-out of its new contact tracing app, CookSafe+, compatible with New Zealand’s tracer app.
Developed in conjunction with Rush Digital RUSH, the same software design and technology provider used by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health to build their NZ Covid Tracer app, CookSafe+ utilises Bluetooth technology.
Pacific health expert Colin Tukuitonga said the upgrade of Cook Islands tracer app is vital.
He had visited Rarotonga recently to assess its health structure and how New Zealand could help make two-way quarantine free travel as safe as possible.
He said both governments already had checks in place to minimise spread, such as mandatory Covid-19 free results 96 hours before travel and strict overnight-isolation for flight crews.
The Cook Islands government also set up a new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab to lift its testing capabilities for Covid-19.
A one-way travel bubble has opened, with the first flight from the Cook Islands touching down at Auckland International Airport. (Video first published January 21, 2021)
Brown recently said the Cooks have asked the New Zealand government to supply Pfizer vaccines for its 17,000 plus citizens.
Although no details have been confirmed by New Zealand of when these will arrive in Cook Islands, Brown said they are ready to receive and begin their vaccination roll-out.