Coronavirus: Cook Islands private sector leader 'perplexed' by travel bubble delay

A representative for the Cook Islands' private sector is "perplexed" that a travel bubble has not yet been given the greenlight between the islands and New Zealand. 

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the first phase of establishing a free-flowing travel corridor between the Cook Islands and New Zealand had been completed. 

Negotiations on a text outlining the "health and border requirements" each country must meet for the bubble to go ahead are concluding and this has been reported to Cabinet. 

The next phase will see health and border officials from each country check the implementation of such requirements on the ground, and, once that's done, the countries will decide whether quarantine-free travel can begin safely. It's hoped that will occur before the end of the year. 

But the length of time it's taking to get the travel bubble up and running is frustrating leaders in the Cook Islands, with the nation's economy heavily reliant on tourists. 

Fletcher Melvin, the Cook Islands Private Sector Taskforce chair, told The AM Show that it's unclear what the hold up is. 

"We are a bit perplexed as well now. We have done everything that we thought the New Zealand Government wanted. I am not sure why it is taking so long," he said.

"Our airport is ready to go and I believe Auckland Airport is ready to go. We are not sure what the excuses are now."

Ardern said on Monday it was crucial the commitments made in the text were properly implemented and tested.

"We need to stress test the arrangement, ensure testing and surveillance systems are strong, that we have contact tracing systems in place in the event of a case and that both countries can ensure those eligible for travel within the New Zealand/Cook Islands travel bubble meet the requisite health and border criteria as detailed in the Arrangement," she said.

The idea of a quarantine-free travel bubble with the Cook Islands has gained momentum over the last month as a bubble with Australia became less likely due to a surge in cases in Victoria. Melvin said he's not sure what the risk is to New Zealand by opening a corridor with a COVID-19-free state like the Cook Islands. 

"I'd understand if it was another country which had COVID, but in this case, what is the risk?"

Prime Minister Ardern has consistently said the bubble won't go ahead until both countries were sure it was safe.

While New Zealand hasn't recorded community transmission in more than 100 days, the Director-General of Health has said its a matter of when, not if, the virus gets back into the community. If that was to happen, officials don't want to risk a case spreading within the Cook Islands.

Both Auckland Airport and Wellington Airport are preparing for a bubble by dividing their international terminals into two self-contained processing zones.