Government is to bring the school holidays forwards a month, and send all Rarotonga children home from school for two weeks, from Friday afternoon.
It is one of a series of major population health control measures decided at an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday, to contain the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic taking hold in Cook Islands.
The Church of Latterday Saints has already cancelled all church meetings, and the Apostolic Church is expected to do the same, as Prime Minister Henry Puna calls for all large gatherings of more than 50 people to be canned. This evening Te Tiare Association announced the indefinite postponement of its Pride Day, which was to have taken place on March 27.
The Prime Minister said Cabinet has also closed the borders of the Pa Enua outer islands, and expanded other Cook Islands border restrictions.
“From tomorrow, anyone intending to enter Rarotonga from any country with the exception of New Zealand is required to self-quarantine for 14 days in New Zealand. This includes Cook Islanders returning from countries other than New Zealand."
The new restriction will be in place until 18 April 2020, and is subject to weekly review.
All flights from French Polynesia, Australia and the United States were cancelled through until April 18, he said.
“A temporary ban on all cruise ships, pleasure crafts and yachts entering Cook Islands waters will be effective from tomorrow and at this stage through to 30 June 2020, subject to weekly review.
“It is important to note that cargo boats and planes will still be able to enter our ports and our supply chain of products will not be affected.
“As a result of these interventions the Cook Islands will strengthen their border restrictions. We believe interventions like these coupled with our people becoming well versed with social distancing practices are our best hope in minimising the impact Covid-19 will have on our country and on our people."
The Prime Minister said social distancing practices, including minimising close contact with other people, could stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus disease.
The last day of the school term will be Friday 20 March. At this stage there will be a two-week break. This applies to schools on Rarotonga only; schools on Aitutaki and the other outer islands will continue as usual.
In the meantime, schools have been tasked with teaching students to practice good hand hygiene and coughing etiquette before the holiday break.
The Government is urging all members of the public to help reduce close personal contact with others.
At home, health officials are asking people to wash their hands regularly, avoid touching your face, handshaking and kissing, regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, bathrooms, and kitchens, increase ventilation in all rooms, and avoid family outings when possible.
Government and health officials are strongly discouraging the gathering of groups of more than 50 people, large gatherings involving singing, sporting/church/cultural events, and gatherings at indoor venues where spacing between people of more than one metre cannot be achieved.
This evening, Te Tiare Association announced the indefinite postponement of Pride Day, which had been planned for March 27. "I'm sure people will understand the reasons for our decision," said Pride Cook Islands spokesperson Karla Eggelton. “Everyone around the Cook islands are doing their bit to manage the risk of a potential coronavirus outbreak, including avoiding close contact with others. Large public events are designed to bring people together and that makes social distancing an obvious challenge."
"We'll reassess our plans and when the time's right we'll resurrect our plans for the Cook Islands' first Pride Day. You know what they say, there's always a rainbow after the rain!"
In the workplace, both employers and employees are being asked to stay at home if they display symptoms associated with Covid-19, defer meetings and gatherings hold meetings outside, avoid shaking hands, practise proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette, and avoid sharing drink and food.
Prime Minister Henry Puna said: "The Government is taking firm action to protect the people of the Cook Islands, residing in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua, especially our vulnerable populations.
“We must all work together and continue to be extremely diligent in practising effective hand hygiene, cough etiquette and social distancing measures that local and international health officials have stressed.”
* For more information about Covid-19, visit the Cook Islands Ministry of Health website.