During a special Parliament sitting, MPs passed the Covid-19 Amendment Bill which was assented by the Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters into an Act on the same day.
Last month, government put an international travel restrictions for entry into the Cook Islands. That included all travellers seeking entry into the country, including Cook Islanders and Cook Islands residents.
However the Act did not explicitly deny the rights to Cook Islanders and permanent resident holders.
PM Henry Puna said they needed to do some amendments to the Covid-19 law regarding the travel restrictions in order to ensure they have a stronger grip on their borders.
The amended Act states Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Puna, can deny entry of any person including Cook Islanders, permanent residents and children of permanent residents. It also gives him the power to impose any conditions of entry for any person.
Under the Cook Islands constitution, Puna said Cook Islanders and permanent residents have the “sacred right” to travel in and out of the country.
However he said they do have provisions in place for protective short term measures such as denying entry for the Cook Islanders wanting to return home during this Covid-19 period.
“There is a provision under the Act that this arrangement is for a short period of time until this pandemic is over or a vaccine has been found,” Puna said.
The Covid-19 Amendment Bill 2020 is designed to further protect the health and wellbeing of Cook Islanders; over a third of whom are considered vulnerable and at a higher risk of serious illness, should they contract the virus.
The first people allowed back into the country since the border was closed on March 25 arrive in Rarotonga on Friday, May 8. They are Cook Islands citizens and residents who have spent 14 days undergoing supervised quarantine and medical clearance at an Auckland hotel.
On arrival they will undergo a further 14 days of supervised quarantine and medical clearance before being allowed to join their families in their homes.
PM Puna has confirmed the Edgewater Resort and Spa as the quarantine facility for returning Cook Islands citizens and residents.