Cook Islands PM: ‘Up to Kiwis’ if they choose to visit from May 1

The Cook Islands will be ready to accept Kiwi tourists from May 1, with or without New Zealand’s blessing or official two-way quarantine-free travel, the country’s prime minister says.

In a recent interview during his tour to New Zealand in March, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said his message is clear – from May 1, the islands will be ready for business, and it is up to Air New Zealand and New Zealanders if they wish to travel.

Air New Zealand has already started advertising daily flights to Rarotonga from May 10, and the recent trans-Tasman bubble announcement could also provide more travel options to the Pacific nation.

The Cook Islands is one of only 14 countries in the world, and nine in the Pacific, to remain Covid-free.

One-way quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands began in January, without a mandatory 14-day quarantine on either side.

But travel into the Cook Islands was restricted to citizens, work permit holders and permanent residents, while travel to New Zealand was open to anyone.

The only requirement was that travellers shouldn’t have embarked on other international travel 14 days before departure.

Brown said he was working with his government to amend its travel advisory and allow Kiwi tourists in from May 1.

“We are open for business on May 1. We don’t own the airlines, Air New Zealand of course will take that message and work around it,” Brown told TVNZ.

“For us, this has been a long process to get us to this stage, to be able to announce when we’re open for business.”

Brown said the airlines can see that as an opportunity to attract more passengers, but the Cook Islands will be ready to start receiving New Zealanders.

“That’s up to Kiwis if they choose to come to Cook Islands.”

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said Kiwis are free to book available flights to the Cook Islands, but must be aware of quarantine requirements for all journeys.

She said current flights are limited, but more will be added once a bilateral agreement is announced.

“We are working closely with both governments to understand what a Cook Islands bubble will look like and how we will operate this,” she said.

“We understand the Cook Islands is ready for May 1, and we look forward to hearing more from the New Zealand Government about [quarantine-free travel] entry for Kiwis returning from Rarotonga.”

Thomas Tarurongo Wynne, a former adviser to the Cook Islands government and Wellington resident, said the Cook Islands can instigate two-way quarantine-free travel even if an official agreement isn’t reached on May 1.

Wynne said the upcoming trans-Tasman bubble upped the ante for more travellers and tourism to the Cooks, but also increased the health risks.

The requirement for both bubbles is that travellers spend 14 days in each of the countries before departure.

That means Australian travellers to New Zealand can travel on to Rarotonga if they spend two weeks in New Zealand first.

On return, travellers have to stay 14 days in the Cook Islands before they fly to New Zealand, to bypass mandatory quarantine.

Wynne said this was possible unless the New Zealand government stepped in and changed its own return travel advisory to the Cook Islands.

“It’s upped the ante, but it begs the question of risk, is the health response in the Cooks ready?” he said.

“Cook Islands has had to worry only about New Zealand travellers, now there’s the risk that Australian travellers may bring too.”

Wynne said the Cook Islands are still dealing with a dengue fever outbreak, which is already testing its health service capacity.

“I’m very excited about the trans-Tasman bubble, and soon the Cooks. We have a large diaspora in Australia at Perth in the mines, Sydney and Melbourne, but are we willing to take that risk?

“We should be taking a measured approach, and the health and safety of our islands should be paramount.”

New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which is responsible for managed isolation and quarantine facilities, has been approached for comment.

Source : RNZ, 7th April 2021

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