Quarantine free travel with NZ by end of March, 2021

Saturday 12 December 2020 | Written by Katrina Lintonbon | Published in Economy, Health, National

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Quarantine free travel with  NZ by end of March, 2021
The Rarotongan managing director Tata Crocombe. 20032050

New Zealand is working at pace to implement quarantine-free travel for Cook Islanders travelling to NZ as the first step in a phased approach to two-way quarantine free travel between the two nations.

Prime Minister Mark Brown and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have agreed to an “arrangement to facilitate quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands” by end of March next year. 

The agreement has been welcomed by local and NZ travel and tourism industry members but one Cook Islands resort owner is not convinced, saying there is nothing new in the latest announcement.

Tata Crocombe, managing director of the Rarotongan, Sanctuary Rarotonga and Aitutaki Lagoon Resort, says it is unfair to build up the hope of tourism operators who are desperately trying to keep their businesses afloat.

Talks on the establishment of a travel bubble between the two countries before Christmas have been ongoing for some time.

“We have never had a single case here and there are currently no community transmission cases in New Zealand so what’s the hold up?” Crocombe said.

“This is so unfair. They are messing with people’s livelihoods.”

New Zealand’s National Party Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the Cook Islands bubble was taking too long to set up.

Bishop said yesterday’s announcement “is an utterly meaningless statement that does no more than repeat that officials are still working on the issue”.

Acknowledging the Cook Islands’ Covid-free status, NZ PM Ardern has confirmed that the first step is to implement quarantine-free travel for Cook Islanders heading to New Zealand.

A timeline is yet to be announced.

“Quarantine-free access for travellers from the Cook Islands to New Zealand will provide for the movement of people for delivering and accessing essential services, while allowing officials to finalise preparations for a safe return to two-way quarantine-free travel,” Ardern said.

Both Prime Ministers and their Cabinets have instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine free travel in the first quarter of 2021.  

PM Ardern said: “The Arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands.  It will allow people to travel more easily between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19.” 

Prime Minister Brown welcomed progress, and said the free movement of people between New Zealand and the Cook Islands is central to our close relationship and integral to the Cook Islands’ recovery from Covid-19 impact.  

“This Arrangement is the next step towards resuming many aspects of life in the Cook Islands that have been disrupted by Covid-19, including access to health and education, and reuniting family and friends.” 

Private Sector Task Force chair Fletcher Melvin said although this is welcome news, he would hope that the final date is announced next week to give everyone some certainty.

“We have always maintained that Cook Islands residents should not be subject to quarantine upon entering New Zealand because we do not have the virus,” Melvin said.

There will be a lot of Cook Islanders wanting to travel to New Zealand for much-needed medical tests, to see family and to purchase essential items, he said.

“There is currently no community outbreak of the virus in New Zealand and its containment to the quarantine facilities has been a resounding success. Therefore, travellers from New Zealand to the Cook Islands who have been in the country for more than two weeks will be virus-free,” Melvin said.

“We are very fortunate to be able to travel to New Zealand, who leads the world in handling this pandemic, and we look forward to establishing a quarantine-free bubble with our neighbour.”

Air New Zealand said its teams are busy preparing to start two-way travel between here and the Cooks and is working closely with the government and airports on requirements.

The airline chief executive Greg Foran said safety will continue being the company’s top priority, and it is looking forward to being able to provide people the opportunity to travel again.

Edgewater Resort and Club Raro chief executive Andrew Whittaker said its huge news as the island of Rarotonga has been suffering since the borders have been closed.

He said having some formal agreement in place is an early Christmas present.

“I just think it’s great to see. We understand the timeframe that it’s taken but as we know it’s just getting back to a bit of a new norm really and seeing how we go.

“We’re excited about the news today - hopefully we’ll hear a bit more about the progress over the next few days and before Christmas.”

  • Additional reporting RNZ