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‘It’s been a struggle’: Cook Islands residents countdown to Aussie reunions

Wednesday 23 February 2022 | Written by Sian Solomon | Published in National, Travel


‘It’s been a struggle’: Cook Islands residents countdown to Aussie reunions
Local resident Harry Beston says he is happy the Australian border has reopened. PHOTO: SIAN SOLOMON/22022205

Australia reopened its border to all fully vaccinated visa holders on February 20, welcoming the return of international travellers and other visitors for the first time in nearly two years.

The country closed its borders to almost everyone except Aussie citizens and residents in March 2020, in an attempt to slow surging Covid-19 case numbers. 

The travel ban, which also barred citizens from travelling overseas without an exemption, and imposed a strict cap on international arrivals earned the country the nickname "Fortress Australia".

However, travellers and other visitors will now be allowed to enter all states and territories with no quarantine or exemption required, apart from Western Australia, which isn’t set to reopen until March 3. 

Those travellers who are not fully vaccinated will still require a valid travel exemption to enter the country and will be subject to state and territory quarantine requirements.

In a statement issued on Friday, Australian High Commissioner Dr Christopher Watkins said that Australians were “excited” to be reconnected with their Cook Island neighbours. 

Watkins said that the border reopening will “reconnect families” who have been divided by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

He added that Cook Islanders will be able to visit other Australian based Cook Islanders without needing to spend time in New Zealand, before travelling to the country. 

Watkins went on to say that it is an important step towards restarting direct flights between both countries, which “can now happen whenever (the) Cook Islands decide it is safe to do so.”

However, he said the process of returning from Australia to the Cook Islands through New Zealand remains subject to the rules of those governments.

“With Covid numbers coming down in Australia, and vaccination rates high in both countries, hopefully, it is not long before direct flights resume,'' said Watkins. 

With the border now reopened to all vaccinated travellers, it means Cook Island resident and Australian ex-pat Harry Beston will be able to see his family and friends for the first time in almost a year. 

Beston said it had been a struggle not having the comfort of being able to return home to his native country for a visit. 

He said that during Covid-19, he wasn’t eager to visit friends and family, but now that Covid-19 had become “normalised” and vaccination numbers are high, he feels more comfortable about the idea of travelling home to Australia for a holiday. 

He said he thinks it is good that fully vaccinated people won't have to apply for a travel exemption, making the process easier and less stressful.

“Not having the comfort of returning home to visit friends and family whenever I wanted has been a bit of a struggle,'' he said. 

“It's been hard because my Nan was admitted to hospital recently, and I wanted to go and visit her, but I guess with Covid I probably wouldn’t have been able to anyway.

“Luckily, I (have) felt pretty safe here in the Cook Islands, considering how Covid-19 was going overseas.”

Beston, who works in hospitality and tourism, says he has tried not to think about what he might have missed since being away from Australia. 

He said he hopes to return to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) where his family lives at some point, but adds that he doesn't know when yet. 

He said that after seeing his family and his friends, the first thing he will do when he arrives in Australia is go shopping. 

“I want to get more of a variety of stuff that you can’t get here, like clothes and Xbox games.

“So once I see them (family and friends) it will be shopping for sure.”