“Today we start our journey of recovery”, PM says

Monday 3 May 2021 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Local, National

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“Today we start our journey of recovery”, PM says
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The Cook Islands will open its border to Kiwi tourists in a fortnight after the announcement of the two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries starting on May 16 (Cook Islands time).

After months of speculation, local tourism industry members can breathe a sigh of relief following the announcement of the much-anticipated travel bubble between the Cook Islands and New Zealand.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced that the two-way quarantine-free travel will commence between the two countries on May 16 (CKT).

However, both leaders said in a joint statement that the opening of the bubble is pending final confirmation from Secretary Bob Williams from Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health, and New Zealand’s Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

As part of the bubble arrangement, travellers will have to have been in either the Cook Islands or New Zealand for at least 14 days before travel.

There will be no requirement for a pre-departure Covid-19 test, but travellers will have to submit a travel declaration and there will be random health checks at airports.

PM Brown said the confirmation of two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries was the result of “our uncompromising commitment to ensuring all necessary health and border measures are instituted to the highest standards of protection against Covid-19 prior to commencement”.

He said the two countries have jointly elevated efforts towards bolstering readiness and response capabilities against Covid-19 in preparation for the safe resumption of the travel bubble.

“Today we start our journey of recovery. Today we get back to business. Today with our joint confirmation of the 17 May (NZ time), we give our people, and particularly our industry the certainty necessary to institute remaining preparatory steps to once more welcome visitors to our shores,” Brown said.

“The fact that this announcement comes only a few weeks after the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement between Australia and New Zealand began, speaks to the sacrifices we have all made and the incredible work that’s gone into this endeavour. We must continue to work together and I know that we will.”

PM Ardern called the establishment of two-way quarantine free travel “a world-leading arrangement”.

She said a huge amount of work had gone into ensuring the two-way bubble was safe and that the Cook Islands was set up and ready for it.

“Two-way quarantine-free travel is a significant step in both countries’ COVID-19 recovery, and a direct result of both New Zealand and the Cook Islands’ successful response to the pandemic,” Ardern said.

“It will mean families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands’ tourism sector and recovery.”

Liana Scott, the president of Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, said the announcement was a “huge relief”.

“News of a travel bubble between NZ and the Cooks certainly reduces stress and anxiety, particularly with the Government support packages coming to an end 30th June 2021,” Scott told Cook Islands News.

“There are so many positives towards a move in the direction of an open border, it means the difference of survival and growth. It also will help stem migration of abled Cook Islanders whom have been taking on permanent and seasonal work in NZ to support their families, as they have been unable to live with wage subsidy alone.”

Scott said some businesses will still struggle through the “quiet start” to tourist numbers at the announcement of a border opening, particularly with high restart operational costs.

However, she said a slow start “is a blessing in disguise” as staff shortages need to be filled as well as restoring stock levels, particularly with limits on airfreight.

“Airfreight of course is expected to ramp up with the availability of more flights in and out of country.

“Tourism dollars affects not just the obvious hotel and motel operators, but also the suppliers that provide produce or services – from the lemon and lime growers to the fishermen, from the laundromat to the printers. Florists for weddings, photographers and of course employees will all have a sense of a relief – a sense of some normality.”

Fletcher Melvin, the chair of the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce, said they were thrilled with the announcement and thanked both governments for their commitment to resume quarantine-free travel.

“It’s been a long time coming, we are grateful to both governments and the hardworking officials for confirming a date. We can now start planning with a concrete date in place,” Melvin said.

“Businesses can now start restocking, getting the rooms and staff ready for business from that day (May 16).”

Leading up to May 16, Brown said local officials led by the Border Easement Taskforce will focus efforts on final implementation tasks, including airline and airport preparedness, ongoing refresher training for officials, and critical industry refresher initiatives “to ensure we are ready to receive visitors from the May 16”.

Vaccination

PM Brown said government is continuing its work on a vaccine rollout and further details would be provided in the “next few weeks”.

NZ PM Ardern said: “The health and safety of the people of the Cook Islands has at all times been paramount.”

“Vaccination, while not an answer on its own, will provide an added layer of protection once rolled out, and we continue to advance these plans alongside the Cook Islands.”