With an improving regional situation around the Covid-19 pandemic, government is confident an easing of travel restrictions.
Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown said the government supported Private Sector Taskforce calls to work towards a concrete date in July.
“We are actively working with Te Marae Ora, Chamber and tourism to determine what it will take,” he said, “while at same time protecting our people from the risk of the virus entering our country.”
Cook Islands had most of its eggs in the tourism basket, he acknowledged, but he also warned there are no magic diversification bullets.
“We are now in late May and have gone without tourists visiting our shores for two months,” he said.
“While many of us are enjoying the slower pace of life that comes with fewer people on our islands, it is vital to our livelihoods that we look forward and work towards the safest way to open our borders.”
A number of officials have been directed to work towards the country’s borders re-opening, holding discussions with counterparts from New Zealand, the World Health Organization and the Pacific Community to develop plans for the easing of border restrictions.
Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman said the Covid-19 situation in New Zealand was being monitored closely. “Changes will only be made once officials are satisfied risks to public health are minimal or that processes are in place to mitigate these,” she said. “The community’s health is the priority.”
They will also be engaging with the private sector and community representatives to ensure that when the borders are reopened, there is the ability to be able to protect the health of the community.
“Our health and economy must move forward together- we cannot maintain our economy without considering the health and safety of our people,” Brown said.
“Likewise, we cannot maintain our health system without a viable economy.”
Recognition must also be given, Brown said, to the diligent work by healthcare workers and a committed public that had allowed Cook Islands to declare itself Covid-19-free.
“Yet this pandemic is unlike any public health emergency we have ever seen,” Brown said. “While the Government works through the details on how to reopen, we recognise there will likely be a gap between the end of phase one economic support in June and the border opening.”