Adyn Kapi, 20, left Rarotonga in 2017 for the Gold Coast to study and play rugby, but has since returned to Rarotonga to ride out the pandemic. 20120427
The pandemic has wrecked the nation’s tourism dependent economy. Previously when times were tough, people fled overseas in search of opportunity. That has yet to happen, but the business community believes the threat of depopulation remains.
public and members of the business community were bracing for the worst.
Cook Islands came to grips with the borders being shut to keep the Covid-19
virus out of the country, a cold reality set in: how are people going to make
ends meet, and if they can’t, would they consider leaving to search for
economic opportunity in New Zealand or elsewhere?
month in a report, ratings agency S&P said they expected the country’s
gross domestic product to fall by about 9 per cent in 2020 and 5.3 per cent in
2021, with GDP per capita dropping to NZ$23,600 in 2021 from NZ$25,100 in 2020.
Private Sector Taskforce warned in August of a possible “exodus” that could
rival what occurred in 1997 and in 2008 during the global financial crisis if a
travel bubble wasn’t formed with NZ by the end of September.
despite substantial damage inflicted to the tourism-dependent economy,
government data shows depopulation hasn’t happened. Yet.
surprisingly, more people have returned than have left.
Adyn Kapi, 20, left Rarotonga in 2017 for the Gold Coast to study and play rugby.
roughly three years, Kapi put together a string of accomplishments on the
field, winning nationals on his school team before going on to play for the
Tweed Heads Seagulls, the feeder team for the Gold Coast Titans who compete in
the National Rugby League (NRL) premiership.
ago, he travelled back to Rarotonga to be with family and friends for the
holidays, and in January, he arrived back on the Gold Coast. Within a couple
months, the entire world changed as Covid-19 spread around the world.
began the month of March with only a handful of cases of the virus, but by the
end of the month, about 300 cases were being reported daily.
wanted to come home straightaway, I was pretty scared, everything had started
shutting down,” Kapi said.
wasn’t the only Cook Islander wanting to return home.
to the statistics office with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management,
from March until the end of October of this year, 1124 Cook Islands residents
left the country. But 1480 returned, resulting in a net influx of 356
officials agree that one shouldn’t draw broad conclusions from the numbers, but
at a minimum, they appear to indicate that a wholesale departure of residents
immigration officer Kairangi Samuela from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Immigration said she was aware of the trend. “We have noticed that there are
more people coming than going out,” she said.
of the people who are coming in appear to be older, in their 60s. I’m not sure
what you can read into it, but that’s what we’ve seen with the people coming
said while it’s difficult to read into the numbers, it could be possible that
Cook Islands’ Covid-19-free status may by playing a factor, keeping people in
the country while enticing others to return. Another possibility could be those
returning have been made redundant or have been forced out of work due to the
Kapi, the danger of contracting Covid-19 was amplified due to an existing
underlying health issue.
to get out of Australia quickly. And coming home turned out to be an ordeal.
Tauira, Kapi’s mother, said: “With Adyn, it was a bit more worrying. He has
rheumatic fever, so that was another reason why we got him straight out,
because all the flights started to shut.”
lucky to get out, because I think the following week there were no flights
flew directly to Christchurch, where we had to undergo 30 days of quarantine.
Another two weeks of managed quarantine in Auckland and he was a on a plane to
the best feeling. I was happy. I couldn’t wait to get home,” he says.
two weeks of quarantine at the Edgewater - “I was lucky, free food, free
accommodation,” he says – he was finally free, and in one of the safest places
in the world during the pandemic.
arriving, Kapi says he has been reconnecting with friends and family, planting
taro, cutting grass, and keeping the house tidy.
also been spending a lot of time playing sports. He earned man of the match
honours for two recent Tri-Nations cup matches, and represented Mauke in the
Cook Islands Games, playing Sevens, league 9’s and boxing.
happy to be back, there’s a lot of smiles,” Kapi says.
the majority have largely chosen to stay put, there’s still no sign of a travel
bubble, and the business community is voicing exasperation.
Private Sector Taskforce chair Fletcher Melvin says depopulation remains a
concern. And one reason people may be staying is the “lifeline” financial
support government has been paying out through the wage subsidy.
the response to date through the ERP (Economic Response Plan) has mitigated
against this happening,” he says. “However, the issue is still present and it
will be a problem if there isn’t continuous financial assistance from
government, or the economy isn’t able to restart.”
connection between depopulation and a lack of a vibrant economy is basic
Kapi, he’s playing the waiting game and assessing his options. What is certain,
he says, is he will leave Rarotonga again at some point to pursue his rugby
dreams, with options to go back to Australia or potentially playing in New
supposed to go back but I’m still deciding,” he says. “We’re looking at
once it’s safe and the threat of the virus has subsided, Kapi’s mother thinks
it’s better that he heads back overseas.
want him staying here,” she says. “You don’t want to look back when you’re
remains to be seen if, once borders open and the threat of Covid-19 abates,
others will follow.