Australia is encouraging Cook Islands to push ahead with a Pacific travel bubble – even if they can’t be part of it.
The Cook Islands and Australian prime ministers have held “positive” talks.
Australia’s Scott Morrison urged Henry Puna to seek a travel bubble with New Zealand, Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown revealed.
Cook Islands should “pursue with New Zealand the easing of restrictions between our two borders before Australian borders with New Zealand.”
It comes as New Zealand officials investigate quarantine exemptions for medical personnel, judges and key infrastructure workers travelling back from the Cook Islands – but also warn that other restrictions will remain in place until December.
And in Australia, Morrison acknowledges Australia may not be able to open its borders before next year; Melbourne and Victoria have just gone back into lockdown as they’re hit by another wave of Covid-19. 254 new cases were reported in Australia yesterday.
A spokesman for the Australian Prime Minister confirmed a “positive” conversation with Puna. “We have not committed to a time on the travel bubble yet,” he said.
Fletcher Melvin, the chair of the Private Sector Taskforce, said the encouragement from Australia was a positive message.
“That’s what we have been saying all along,” he said.
“Australia hasn’t been able to fully recover from Covid-19 and what we have been saying is that it would make more sense if New Zealand and Cook Islands start a travel bubble before it’s extended to other countries that have Covid-19 under control.”
New Zealand has maintained the trans-Tasman bubble is their main priority, but Mark Brown is optimistic Cook Islands will get the first opportunity.
He held a virtual Joint Ministerial Forum with New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Winston Peters on Wednesday, where discussions on reopening borders took the centre stage.
Brown said they requested the removal of quarantine requirements on arrival into New Zealand for travellers from the Cook Islands and relaxing of New Zealand’s outwards travel advisory for travel to the Cook Islands.
Brown said his counterpart was “very positive” about the potential travel bubble between the two countries which could happen “soon”.
“He couldn’t see any reason why we couldn’t start that now. There were no risk associated with it particularly since we have lifted our quarantine restrictions on arrivals from New Zealand,” Brown said.
“We have no Covid-19 case here so the need to have 14 days quarantine going back to New Zealand is basically redundant. The people that came here that are going back there came from the same route.
“His words to me were that he hopes that common sense prevails and that we get this sorted out so that easing of restrictions going back into New Zealand is lifted.”
During the forum, New Zealand also approved a further $15 million to the Cook Islands to strengthen border controls in lead up to the possible easing of travel restrictions.
Brown said the funds would also be used in assisting the country’s Covid-19 prevention.
“We will be putting these funds specifically towards those measures again to provide assurance to our people that travel between Auckland and Rarotonga is quite safe.
“What we are saying is that firstly we like to see essential travel being approved and by extension that should then lead to tourists being allowed to travel freely between our two countries.”
Brown also pointed out the need for New Zealand to send a team here to do an audit of the medical and Covid-19 prevention measures in place
“We are quite happy to welcome them to not only give ourselves assurance of what we got in place is good, sound and adequate but to also provide to the New Zealand public that what we have in place is very good and sound preventive measures.”
From June 19, the Cook Islands border has reopened to Cook Islanders and permit holders provided that the person travelling has not been outside of New Zealand/Cook Islands in the 30 days prior to travel.
Exemptions to the 30 day period can be sought from the Ministry of Immigration and Foreign Affairs which can be provided at the discretion of the principal immigration officer after consultation with the Secretary of Health.
Visitor permits are not being issued.
Brown said their travel advisory would be revised “shortly” and in line with the New Zealand travel advisory.
New Zealand has 18 active Covid-19 cases but all of them are travel cases.