Chris Bishop, David Seymour give scathing reviews of progress on Cook Islands travel bubble

National has described the Government's plan for a Cook Islands travel bubble by May as "hopeless", while ACT says Kiwis deserve better. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern held a press conference in Auckland on Friday alongside her Cook Islands counterpart Mark Brown, where she said the countries are working in earnest for a May two-way quarantine-free bubble.

The Cook Islands has recorded no cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop is calling on the Government to explain why the bubble is taking so long. 

Bishop expressed dismay at the planned May commencement date since the Government said in December it was committed to quarantine-free travel between the two countries within the first quarter of 2021.  

"I've lost count of the amount of announcements about future announcements the Labour Government has made on travel bubbles. It is getting ridiculous," Bishop said. 

"Jacinda Ardern announced in December that New Zealand and the Cook Islands had agreed to open a travel bubble by end of March. Both have been largely on top of COVID-19 since then so what's the hold-up? Were they just empty words from the Prime Minister last year?"

National MP Chris Bishop.
National MP Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

ACT leader David Seymour said the Government needs to "sharpen up" if New Zealand is going to have any hope of surviving a multi-year pandemic. 

"News that the Cook Islands bubble won't be open before at least May shows the Government isn't up to the job of doing basic things," Seymour said.

"Hard-working New Zealanders need the Government to do much better if we're going to avoid an economic collapse while the rest of the world moves on. Travel between two places with no community transmission of the virus shouldn't be this hard."

The Government will announce on April 6 when it plans to commence a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia, but Seymour is sceptical about it going ahead in light of progress on the Cook Islands bubble. 

"What does this say about when the Government considers it will be safe enough for quarantine free travel with Australia?" Seymour asks. 

"If the Cooks is too tricky, it means we should probably re-set expectations that trans-Tasman quarantine free travel is coming any time soon."

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Bishop shares Seymour's concerns. 

"If New Zealand can't make a Cook Islands bubble happen on time then it doesn't offer much hope for the future of the trans-Tasman bubble," he said. "This is timidity on a grand scale from the Labour Government."

Ardern said there are still things to work through with the Cook Islands. 

"We've spoken frankly about some of the things we think we need to work on together in the meantime, because keep in mind we've had one-way travel for some time because the Cook Islands pose no risk. We pose the risk," Ardern said.

"We are the ones that may potentially export cases so we need to be part of making sure that we're doing everything we can to prepare that two-way travel. We see ourselves as carrying a lot of responsibility to get that right but we're working towards - jointly - May."

Brown said it was a "great honour" to be welcomed as the first state visit since the pandemic began. He said the Cooks were "grateful" to be the first country New Zealand allowed to enter without going into mandatory quarantine.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown. Photo credit: Newshub

But he also touched on how difficult it's been for the Cook Islands. 

"For a country that is totally reliant on tourism - up to 70 percent of GDP - this has had a significant impact on our economy. It's declined 20 percent in the same period that New Zealand's economy has declined by 2.9 percent," Brown said. 

"I know that by working with our closest partner New Zealand, we will be able to find a pathway to recovery, and help those people that are struggling to get back on their feet."

Brown said there are "far deeper structural issues" to hash out, such as the potential loss of labour the Cook Islands will suffer from if they don't start getting tourism income soon, however grateful they are of the millions of dollars in support from New Zealand. 

"I've made the point that if tourists are not bringing money into the country for workers to earn, these workers will go and look for money in other countries, and that's what's happening now."