Cook Islands’ borders are to reopen on June 19 to Cook Islanders and work permit holders in New Zealand – but countless people are still waiting to be able to book their tickets.
Nearly a week after Prime Minister Henry Puna announced the quarantine-free travel, Air New Zealand has still not started selling tickets on the June 19 and June 26 flights. Jetstar has no flights before July, and Virgin Australia has pulled out of the Rarotonga route entirely.
Last night, the first available Air New Zealand flights were for Friday August 7 – at a cost of $710 for a one-way adult fare.
Air New Zealand’s Marisa Newman said it would be a few days before the June 19 and 26 tickets would be available online for purchase.
And the first available Jetstar fare is on July 7, for $220.
Among those hoping to return on June 19 are Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman, and the families of two Cook Islanders who have died in New Zealand.
Dr Koekoe Mokotupu’s body is being brought back from Auckland on that Air New Zealand flight, but his wife Moana, daughter Agnes and other family don’t know if they will be able to return with the body, for his funeral.
“Dad can fly, 100 per cent for sure, but it’s the family that can’t really accompany him because we all have to go into isolation – which is really frustrating,” Agnes told RNZ.
“Dad will go as cargo to Rarotonga. Once he lands we only have, I understand, only two days from when they receive Dad and have the service, and being put to rest.”
“Dad needs to be put to rest and we can’t hang onto him – every time mum thinks about having to go into isolation she cries.”
Prime Minister Henry Puna has said that with New Zealand’s move to Level 1, he wants the borders opened to New Zealand tourists. In 2019, 114,977 Kiwis holidayed in the Cook Islands.
“We are New Zealand citizens and we’re part of the domestic travel market,” he said.
Every week that goes by with no tourists causes more stress on the Cook Islands’ economy – one that is hugely dependent on the tourism industry.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week that the priority was a trans-Tasman travel bubble – with the realm countries of Cook Islands and Niue next in line. “Places like Cook Islands and Niue look to have been Covid-free – you would assume, of course, that we would be looking in that direction.”
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told Cook Islands News that both the New Zealand and Australia Prime Ministers had committed to introducing a trans-Tasman Covid-safe travel zone “as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Once we have established effective travel arrangements across the Tasman, we will also explore opportunities to expand the concept to members of our broader Pacific family,” he said.
That would enable travel between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island countries, he said.
Ardern, speaking at a press briefing, did not give a specific timeline on when border restrictions would be lifted, saying a country would have to be “in a similar position to us”, before there would be any movement.
But she did stand by earlier comments saying they were focusing on Australia first. “Not least tourism not going one way for us, but also New Zealand’s closer economic relationship with Australia,” she said.
New Zealand is currently working on a frame work with Australia that would then apply to the Pacific Islands as well, Ardern said.