Cook Islanders welcome travel bubble as PMs eye two-way solution

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown. Photo credit: Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration

Cook Islands Prime Minister is confident the country can remain coronavirus free when a one-way travel bubble opens next week.

Cook Islanders have been given the green light to travel into New Zealand without quarantine from next Thursday, 21 January, but New Zealanders will have to wait for the same deal in return.

Cook Islanders in New Zealand are excited at the prospect of being reunited with 'anau soon.

Mareta Matenga from the Hamilton Cook Islands Association was overjoyed with the news.

"The Christmas-New Year, that's been a bit of a tough time for a lot of our families but exciting to know now they can, you know, jump on a plane and not have to worry about quarantine. So, that'll be awesome."

Mareta Matenga said she hoped the safeguards would be enough to keep the Cook Islands COVID-free.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said he was confident in the testing and contact tracing systems set up in the past few months.

He and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year said two-way travel should be in place by the end of the first quarter of this year. Brown said he was still banking on that happening, but was concerned about the new more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

"I think the important thing is both countries are aware of this heightened risk of this new variant, measures have been put in place to ensure that we can protect ourselves against it as much as we can.

"The paramount priority for us is to keep ourselves COVID free."

Brown said months of hard work had gone into getting both countries ready for quarantine-free travel.

He said it also meant the judiciary, education and healthcare could be revived in the Cook Islands.

"There has been a desperate need to clear one year's worth of court cases due to the inability to conduct trials and hearings before a judge," he said.

"Private companies have been ham-strung by the inability to bring in specialists for major projects and infrastructure work.

"Dozens and dozens of people who would normally have regular scheduled appointments to see specialists, to have checkups in New Zealand that have been deferred and also for a number of student families who are looking to enrol in university in New Zealand.

"This announcement comes at a really significant time for a number of families."

To be eligible to enter the country, people in the Cook Islands must meet conditions including no travel outside the Cook Islands or New Zealand, or any contact with a confirmed case, in the past 14 days.

They would also need to wear a face covering at the airport at which they arrive in New Zealand and may be subject to random temperature checks.