Desperate calls for Cook Islands two-way quarantine-free travel bubble date

Cook Islands business and tourism experts are calling for politicians to decide on a firm date for the two-way travel bubble with New Zealand on Friday, saying it's "crucial" for the nation's economy.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown is currently in Auckland and will meet with NZ counterpart Jacinda Ardern on Friday to discuss a potential date to open a Trans-Tasman bubble.

Currently, Cook Islanders are allowed to enter Aotearoa without being required to quarantine on arrival, but there is now a push to open a two-way quarantine-free bubble with the South Pacific nation.

Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce CEO Eve Hayden told The AM Show she sees no reason why it shouldn't happen.

"One-way quarantine-free travel began in January to test the protocols and the green corridor. It's working perfectly well. We now have random people coming into the country like judges and lawyers and medical people. They don't seem to be any less infectious than tourists so we have no idea why tourism is not allowed at this point."

Tourism is an extremely important sector for the Cook Islands, making up 80-85 percent of the economy Hayden said. But it has been left decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hayden said business owners have been struggling and government handouts have only been enough to "eat and live".

She is hoping for the bubble to be confirmed as soon as possible to stimulate the economy.

"Yesterday would have been better but tomorrow will be fine."

She said even waiting to mid-April would be okay, as long as they have a set date to plan for.

"We really do need a firm date. I think that's the angst amongst business owners here. How long do we have to wait? We are already losing some of our valuable workers to New Zealand and we can't continue to do that and be able to function a full tourism industry."

One of the main concerns regarding the bubble is the potential to bring the virus to the Cook Islands, but Hayden assured they are ready and capable of handling an outbreak.

She said they have greatly improved their systems including upgrading their contact tracing and releasing a new app.

She said there are emergency plans in place so if the country does get new cases from tourists, they are prepared.

"Our medical team has been working hard to put facilities and people in place. Everything is underway, we are ready."

In a statement on Thursday, Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott agreed that beginning a two-way bubble was important.

"Reopening our borders with New Zealand is crucial for the entire Cook Islands economy, not just the tourism industry," said Scott.

"We are all ready to do whatever more is needed to make that happen - all I want is some clarity on just what that might be.

"Having a concrete timeline set in place with clear guidelines on what is required would be far more helpful than stringing us along with the false hopes that have been offered up until now."

She said there are currently estimates that for every day the border remains closed, it costs the country another million dollars.

Other areas of concern are mounting public debt and the shrinking local workforce.

"We cannot keep going like this," said Scott.

"Directly or indirectly, the border closure affects almost every single person living in the Cook Islands today. Don't we all deserve some honest answers on when we can expect it to open?"