Cook Islands Prime Minister calls for Pacific bubble as soon as New Zealand enters COVID-19 alert level 1

The Cook Islands Prime Minister wants borders reopened to Kiwi tourists as soon as New Zealand enters COVID-19 alert level 1.

He says with no community transmission in New Zealand there's no risk and the Cook Islands should be treated a bit like a domestic flight.

Henry Puna is making his case for a safe travel zone between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, saying he considers them one and the same.

"We feel that we are part of New Zealand, we are New Zealanders and we're part of your domestic travel market," he says.

And the experts say it's safe.

"According to our health professionals, we are ready to reopen our borders to New Zealand."

In New Zealand the health officials have been clear -  there's no evidence of community transmission, with Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield saying a Pacific bubble would have benefits "both ways".

In June, the Cook Islands would usually have 16,000 visitors in total of which 11,000 of those would be coming from New Zealand and Prime Minister Puna says the resorts are "empty".

But the Deputy Prime Minister says "intense discussions" are still required on aviation, maritime security and the islands' preparedness.

"[There are] other provisions that we've got to have regard for like PPE - face masks - in the Cook Islands, should an outbreak happen," Winston Peters told Newshub.

But Puna's office told Newshub the islands have "sufficient stocks" as "significant PPE was ordered in March".

"The fact that we are virus-free and have been for nearly two months counts very much in our favour," he says.

"I think we can take comfort that there can be exchanges of visits with our two countries with no risks of infection."

New Zealand's provided more than $55 million in aid to help Pacific nations with COVID-19.

But re-starting regional tourism is what's needed.

There are also plans for closer collaboration between airlines like Air Vanuatu and Solomons Airlines to ensure they remain viable.

"This is why it's very important for us to have an indication as to when the borders could open, particularly from Australia and New Zealand as this is where the bulk of our traffic comes from," says South Pacific Airlines Association secretary-general George Faktaufon.

And as new COVID cases continue to surface in Australia, Puna says the Cooks, Niue and Tokelau should be the immediate focus, especially with New Zealand school holidays approaching.

"It does make sense that the Pacific, including the Cook Islands, particularly the realm countries, be prioritised for travel."

Puna says his staff have been in constant contact with Air New Zealand about re-starting travel

But Air New Zealand's commercial arrangements are also in limbo. 

They told Newshub they can resume flights "once border restrictions have been lifted".

Puna's office told Newshub they have isolation beds at their hospital if required, they're working on a contact tracing app and have undertaken more than 1200 COVID-19 tests. More details around protocols at the border would be released soon.