Prime Minister Henry Puna has expressed concerns to New Zealand that if they open their borders to Australia, Covid could transit through to Rarotonga.
His New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern revealed the conversation, in defending her government’s continued blockade of Cook Islands tourism.
It comes amid calls from Cook Islands government, tourism and even former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark to open the borders to Kiwis in time for next month’s school holidays.
New Zealand and Cook Islands are both Covid-free – but Ardern has continued to chase a deal with Australia, which is reporting dozens of new cases every day.
Ardern told Newshub that they needed to be certain they would neither export nor import any new Covid cases.
“I am going to be cautious in that decision-making – unapologetically – because our borders are the reason that we now have the freedom that we have,” she said.
“If we move quickly or without making a full analysis of those decisions, we run the risk of losing everything. That's why we're going to be very careful here.”
She spoke to Puna last week and said he had concerns that if New Zealand also opened up the border to Australia – where there are still hundreds of active cases – that would put his country at risk of importing the virus, which has killed 434,000 people around the world in a matter of months.
"The Cook Islands has to be happy to open with New Zealand, and also doing a little bit of thinking around whether or not they would be happy with the trans-Tasman arrangements as well,” she added.
"Even if they say 'yes, let's open to New Zealand', if New Zealand has people coming in from a state of Australia, they have to be happy with that too. And we have to be happy with that."
Ardern wouldn't give a timeframe on when any bubble might be created, not wanting to get people's hopes up.
The Aotearoa Society of the Cook Islands has added its voice to those calling for New Zealand to open up its borders to allow a travel bubble with south Pacific nations that are Covid-19 free.
President Derek Fox, who has been New Zealand the past few months but expects to return to Rarotonga this week, said New Zealanders were being denied a choice.
“We can understand that the New Zealand government wants to divert New Zealand tourist dollars into New Zealand tourist businesses, but Cook Islanders are New Zealanders too,” he said.
“And unlike New Zealand which has other industries – meat, dairy, wool, forestry, fishing, fruit and veges, wine and others from which to earn income, the Cook Islands have just one.
“Why not let New Zealanders decide where they would like to spend their holiday dollar?
“By continuing to require people to quarantine after returning from a Covid-free country and favourite holiday destination, you are denying them that choice, and visiting hardship on people who are part of the realm of New Zealand.”
New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Helen Clark strengthened her calls yesterday, describing the refusal to open the borders to tourists as a “bubble blockage at the New Zealand end”.
“Why not open a Pacific travel bubble now and let tourism sectors and economies of Covid-19-free Pacific nations have a chance of recovering?’ she asked.
That bubble could be reviewed if, or when, New Zealand also opened up to trans-Tasman travel. “That won’t be soon given ongoing new cases in New South Wales and Victoria,” she observed.
“The travel bubble blockage is at the New Zealand end now. Cook Islands would welcome New Zealand tourists.”
But Kiwis wanting to go to the Cooks for a winter break needed assurance that they would not face a two-week quarantine on their return home to New Zealand, she said. “Both countries are Covid-19 free, so there is no apparent need for that.”