Cook Islands cancels NZ flight over Northland COVID-19 case concerns

The Cook Islands has cancelled a flight to Rarotonga on Wednesday as authorities investigate New Zealand's new COVID-19 community case.

A 56-year-old Northland woman tested positive for the South African COVID-19 variant over the weekend.

She was likely infected during her stay at Auckland's Pullman Hotel MIQ facility, although she went on to visit around 30 locations in Northland and outer Auckland before receiving a positive test. 

So far 15 of the woman's 16 close contacts have returned negative COVID-19 tests, one result still pending.

Around 150 people have been identified as contacts and are in isolation while waiting on their results.

Staff at the Pullman Hotel are also being tested.

On Wednesday, the Cook Islands' Prime Minister Mark Brown said the country's Cabinet was 'heartened' that so far the woman is the only person to test positive.

However, he said they have decided to take a cautious approach and restrict travel.

"With the remaining test results in mind, the Cook Islands is taking its lead from New Zealand in allowing more time for further test results to come in before we can reassure the public one way or the other of the extent of the spread," he said.

"To that end, while we await further results over the next 48 hours, the 30 affected passengers intending to travel to Rarotonga [on Wednesday] will need to defer their flight to the next one departing Auckland on Saturday morning. [Wednesday]'s flight will arrive with cargo and essential goods but no passengers. Wednesday's departure will not be affected."

He said that Air New Zealand will transfer bookings at no cost and officials are in the process of helping those affected find accomodation.

"This is essentially the look of travel in 2021, certainty of travel cannot be guaranteed, and we all need to appreciate that there are risks whenever we choose to travel abroad."

Brown said that Cabinet would meet again when New Zealand has determined whether there are further cases of COVID-19, to determine the best course of action.

This comes after Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt immediately suspended the country's one-way travel bubble with New Zealand on Monday.

"The decision has been taken out of an abundance of caution to reduce the risk of this variant, which has been shown to spread more readily between individuals, entering the Australian community."

Hunt said passengers coming from New Zealand to Australia should "reconsider their need to travel".