COVID-19: Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister, resort owner call for urgent travel bubble with New Zealand

The Cook Islands' Deputy Prime Minister is confident Rarotonga is prepared for a quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand, as frustration brews as to why one is yet to be established.

Mark Brown says every measure has been taken to make the decision easy for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the ball is in her court.

He said some of the island's larger resorts currently resembled "ghost towns" and needed tourism back.

"It's a real issue for us right now - the only thing available to us is to get some economic activity going and the easy first cab off the rank for us is tourism," he told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"The systems that we have in place are strong enough and robust enough to ensure that there's minimal risk. We've had discussions with the likes of Air New Zealand [and] Auckland Airport to look at dedicated arrival gates - so there are a number of things that have been discussed and talked about, now we need to put them into action."

Ardern said on Monday she intends to speak with Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna again and continue work towards a bubble.

New Zealand needed to be sure it wasn't going to create issues for Pacific nations that were free of COVID-19, she said.

But Brown said its borders would automatically close again should an outbreak occur.

"If there was an outbreak, it would come from New Zealand," he said. "I would expect an outbreak in Auckland before an outbreak in the Cook Islands but it does, we have our measures in place. 

"We went into lockdown ourselves just a few months ago, so the country is prepared to take what steps are required to firstly; isolate any case that comes up but also, we have in place upgraded our medical facilities at the hospital."

Mark Brown.
Mark Brown. Photo credit: The AM Show

Cook Islands Resort Owner Dr John Dunn, meanwhile, told The AM Show the New Zealand Government's reasons to ban travel to Rarotonga don't stack up.

There's enough personal protective equipment on the island and its hospital facilities were sufficient, he said.

"I think it's time for someone to get angry," Dr Dunn said. "It's a bit weird - I just can't quite understand it.

"If you look at the reasons proposed why you shouldn't travel to the Cook Islands, they don't stand up to scrutiny."

Dr Dunn told host Duncan Garner there's no risk going to the Cook Islands.

"You're more at risk of getting hit by a coconut than getting COVID there."

Ardern told The AM Show on Monday for the two countries to open without quarantine,  airports would need to be separated to ensure border control staff weren't interacting with people arriving from potentially infected countries.

"Everyone talks as if it's this very simple thing but it does take quite a lot of work," she said.