Some Cook Islanders are expressing anger at the failure to implement stronger border control public health measures, in response to 17 new community-transmitted Covid-19 cases in Auckland.
Social media is abuzz with comments from some concerned locals. They the island’s 10 volunteer puna cannot effectively manage supervised quarantine at the homes of returning travellers.
Others argue the country’s border should be closed down until the situation in Auckland is under control.
Opposition health spokesperson Selina Napa says the health ministry Te Marae Ora’s statements about border controls did little to reassure vulnerable communities.
Concerns were heightened now, knowing 91 people who came in on the last two flights were not tested for Covid on arrival.
“We were all led to believe that we now had the capacity to test for Covid-19,” Napa said.
“Many people are now really alarmed and want our border to close until the situation in New Zealand is brought right under control and there is absolutely zero community transmission.
Napa said she and Opposition leader Tina Browne believed New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had the welfare of Cook Islands people at the forefront of her decision-making.
“Given what has unfortunately happened, I am hoping Prime Minister Ardern will choose to bring in the strictest of measures for travel between our countries and stop all travel from New Zealand to here,” she said.
“Don’t take any risks with the lives of our people.”
Ardern’s spokesperson confirmed a scheduled visit by officials to plan an air-bridge had been called off.
And Secretary of Foreign Affairs Tepaeru Herrmann also issued a statement, saying both governments were acutely aware the re-emergence of Covid-19 in New Zealand was always possible; the Auckland Covid cases reaffirmed the importance of remaining vigilant.
Prime Minister Henry Puna has emphasised the Covid-19 outbreak is a fluid situation and further developments will reflect what is happening in New Zealand.
Government would reassess the risk every day, Cabinet would be briefed, and the community would be updated. “We need to maintain our hygiene and physical distancing practices, this is critical to keeping our people safe,” Puna said.
Four people from the same family in South Auckland have tested positive for Covid-19 via community transmission, with no known links to the country’s border or international travel.
The wider-Auckland area has gone into Level 3 lockdown for three days, while the rest of New Zealand is at Level 2.
And news that a Pasifika family is at the centre of the new outbreak has health professionals in the area reeling.
South Auckland is made up of New Zealand’s biggest Pacific population including a large number of Cook Islands Maori families; Pacific Cooperation chair John Fiso said an outbreak could have devastating consequences.
Some families live in substandard housing, under the breadline and many do not access health care due to fear and cost.
“It is my worst fear that we have a substantial Covid outbreak in these high density, high needs and therefore high risk areas. Our Government should share this concern,” he said.
“We simply cannot let this happen.”
Air New Zealand boss Greg Foran said he would be quite comfortable if the travel bubble between New Zealand and Cook Islands was delayed.
However, he said he felt sorry for people who were looking forward to an overseas holiday.
Cook Islands Tourism chief executive Halatoa Fua would not be drawn on the air-bridge delay, saying Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown and Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman’s comments were sufficient for now.