Rumours about quarantine breaches are unhelpful and create unnecessary concern and in one case has resulted in police intervention, says Health secretary Dr Josephine Aumea Herman.
Several government agencies like police are working closely with the Health ministry to investigate such rumours fuelled by a confirmed quarantine breach last weekend.
Dr Herman said they have asked police to investigate rumoured breaches on their behalf and “so far that’s all they’ve been, rumours”.
However, she acknowledges there is always room for improving processes, but the fact the country remains Covid-free is proof that their systems are working.
Despite the ministry’s reassurance, Opposition Health spokesperson Sel Napa has concerns about keeping the community informed, especially those who are at the coalface of the quarantine management process.
Dr Herman is currently in Auckland undertaking medical tests that are not available in Cook Islands.
However, she continues to meet with her staff daily to ensure the country’s health response remains effective and is in regular contact with senior officials and Cabinet Ministers involved in the national response.
While Dr Herman is away, Dr Tereapii Uka is acting health secretary.
Dr Ted Hughes who returned to Rarotonga last week is undergoing supervised quarantine at Rarotonga Hospital and will provide cover for any medical emergencies if required.
At this stage, 28 passengers are expected to arrive on tomorrow’s flight and they will be undertaking their two weeks supervised quarantine across 21 properties.
Communities have asked for more signage and more communication about where people are quarantined in their neighbourhood and for 24/7 surveillance and this has been established, Dr Herman said.
Since beginning quarantine-free travel to Cook Islands in June, over 600 Cook Islanders have returned.
“We are pleased to have found a way to safely return our people home,” Dr Herman said.
“Unlike us, most of them have been in real ‘lockdowns’ or ‘quarantine’ in their effort to get home; and all have been tested for Covid-19, sometimes more than twice and tested negative.”
Cook Islands is one of the very few countries in the world which remains Covid-19-free, and the country’s isolation has played a part in that along with the precautionary public health approach and careful assessment of virus transmission patterns in other populations.
“Before we make recommendations or decisions, we work through the ‘pros and cons’ to ensure this is well informed by the evidence,” Dr Herman said.
“Some of the people who came back last week have been trying to get home for months. For one elderly couple it was their fifth attempt to catch a flight.
“They’d been booked on four previous flights, all of which for some reason or other were cancelled. Most if not all of the returnees are just relieved and glad to be home. They’re not quarantine breakers.”