Two-way quarantine-free travel between Cook Islands, New Zealand begins on May 17 - Jacinda Ardern

Two-way quarantine-free travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand will begin on May 17, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed. 

Cook Islanders have been allowed into New Zealand quarantine-free since January but the same did not apply to Kiwis wishing to travel to the Cook Islands.  

In March, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown became the first world leader to visit New Zealand since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Brown and Ardern announced they were working towards a May commencement date for a travel bubble. Brown said the Cook Islands had suffered a 20 percent economic decline due to the loss of tourism. 

The new travel bubble means New Zealanders will be allowed to visit both the Cook Islands and Australia quarantine-free, after the trans-Tasman bubble commenced on April 19. 

"Two way quarantine-free travel is a significant step in both countries' COVID-19 recovery, and a direct result of both New Zealand and the Cook Islands' successful response to the pandemic," Ardern said on Monday.

"It will mean families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands' tourism sector and recovery."

In the event of an outbreak, Kiwis will be brought home, Ardern said. This differs from the trans-Tasman bubble, where Kiwis and Australians must stay put if there is a lockdown and travel is paused.

Ardern confirmed Australians will not be able to use New Zealand as a backdoor into the Cook Islands. They will have to spend two weeks in New Zealand before travelling to the Cooks. 

The Government is working through the final details for the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the Cook Islands and expect to provide further details on the rollout within the next week few weeks.

"Today we start our journey of recovery. Today we get back to business," Brown said on Monday in a joint statement with Ardern. 

"Today with our joint confirmation of the 17 May, we give our people, and particularly our industry, the certainty necessary to institute remaining preparatory steps to once more welcome visitors to our shores."

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran says it's "terrific" to be opening the bubble between Rarotonga and New Zealand in both directions after four months of a one-way arrangement.

"We're certain our Cook Island neighbours will welcome Kiwis with open arms for a much-needed boost for the local economy, and we're looking forward to reconnecting friends and whānau who haven't been able to take advantage of the one-way travel arrangement that's been in place since January."

National leader Judith Collins says the bubble should be expanded to the rest of the Pacific. 

"While this is a positive step towards reconnecting New Zealand with our Pacific neighbours, it is only a small step. The Government could, and should, be doing a lot more," she said. 

"Several other Pacific islands, including Tonga and Samoa, have no trace of the virus in their communities, and the Government should be working towards granting these COVID-free islands quarantine-free entry into New Zealand."

ACT leader David Seymour says the Government has taken too long. 

"The Prime Minister's paternalism of the Cook Islands has caused economic and emotional harm to our Pacific neighbours that will take years to fix," Seymour said. 

"ACT welcomes the Government opening up to the Cook Islands and finally treating our neighbours like adults, it's just a shame it took so long and has taken such a big toll."