Kiwis looking to escape the chilly winter months will be able to travel to Cook Islands “sooner rather than later”, Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown announced yesterday.
However New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has responded saying there are no set dates in place and “no one wants to be responsible for Covid-19 entering Pacific nations” that have managed to keep it out.
For the last four months, Mark Brown said the people of Cook Islands have enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet and the chance to reset.
Now, with more than 40 per cent of the population out of work and on a government-funded wage subsidy, it’s time to open up the country to New Zealand travellers.
“For us the economic necessity cannot be overstated,” Brown said.
Speaking from Rarotonga Airport’s international arrivals lounge yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister said the country was ready “open for business”.
“It’s something to really look forward to,” he said.
“We are confident that we will have something up and running in the next week.”
But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was quick to respond saying talks are still taking place and it would be “a week or so” before a decision and final announcement is made.
A spokesperson for Ardern said she spoke to Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna on Sunday to convey that she has asked officials to work on timelines for reopening with realm countries.
“There are no set dates yet, and any speculation at this stage would be very premature,” she said.
“The number one priority will continue to be the safety of both New Zealand and realm countries. No one wishes to be responsible for Covid entering into the Pacific.”
Mark Brown said understandably, there has been a bit of anxiety on both sides.
“We need to make sure all protocols are in place before we push the go button,” he said.
The proposed air bridge will be one of the few in the world between two safe haven countries.
While the country is ready to open it borders to New Zealand, there is still work to be done around allowing travellers from Cook Islands to be exempt from two-weeks’ supervised quarantine.
Brown said there has been work going on behind the scenes with Air New Zealand and others around the establishment of a tunnel at Auckland Airport to make sure there is no interaction between passengers from Cook Islands with other travellers from other countries.
“Our officials will now be working very hard with New Zealand officials to get the air bridge operational,” he said.
“We have been enjoying ourselves for the last few months but we are now looking forward to welcoming some visitors from New Zealand.”