Health Minister Chris Hipkins says realm pacific nations "obviously a priority" for travel bubble

Newshub understands the Cook Islands - not Australia - will be the first country where two-way, quarantine-free travel will resume. 

The Health Minister Chris Hipkins says the Cook Islands and other realm countries are "obviously a priority", despite the Government stating last month the bubble priority was focused on trans tasman travel first. 

The shift in description comes as the Australian state of Victoria clocked up another 270 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. 

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern spoke yesterday. 

That conversation prompted the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown to say on Tuesday he's confident an air bridge between the two nations will be up and running "within the week". 

However, Adern says such speculation is "very premature".

Adern's office said work is underway to establish a timeline for reopening travel with realm countries, but New Zealand was exercising caution as it didn't want to transmit the virus to  COVIID free pacific nations.

Auckland-based surgeon and Cook Islander, John Dunn, says that won't happen. 

Dunn says any continued delays will not only further damage tourism, but it could create a health crisis. 

"I work at Rarotonga Hospital and I need to get up there and operate. I need to get up there and take out those gallbladders and do the colonoscopies before people get sick", Dunn told Newshub. 

Air New Zealand told Newshub it's "pleased" discussions on the travel bubble are going well and "we look forward to providing safe travel between the two nations to more of our customers when possible."