A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered. Photo: AFP
To the New Zealand government, the Cook Islands Opposition is appealing for the Covid-19 vaccine to be rolled out here for our 17,000 people before the two-way travel bubble opens between our two countries, writes Opposition leader Tina Browne.
Our own Te Marae Ora – Ministry of Health must be working
quickly and diligently and do its part to put all the necessary measures in
place to help see the vaccine being available and administered here.
Both our PM and PM Jacinda Ardern have agreed in recent
talks that the vaccination will provide an “additional layer of assurance for
safe movement between our countries” – but then also apparently jointly decided
that it’s “…not a pre-requisite for full resumption of quarantine free travel
between our countries”.
I fail to understand why the two cannot happen, beginning
with the vaccine rolling out as soon as possible to be in time for the
much-anticipated May opening of the travel bubble. Doing it this way ensures
that our very vulnerable population, where over half of our people have some
type of NCD, is given the best possible protection available when the border
opens to all visitors from New Zealand.
I have had conversations with Puna managers, business owners
and community leaders in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua – we are all thinking along
the same lines, vaccine our high-risk population before the two-way travel
Surely if both leaders are saying the vaccine provides
greater protection for safer travel between the two countries, then it has to
be a very good thing and something that should happen first.
We do understand the difficult struggle currently being
experienced by accommodation operators and others in the tourism industry –
especially those who are burdened with repaying heavy mortgages.
We also understand that this loss of income is not just for
operators, but also a huge loss of revenue for our country.
We know we are right now in an extremely difficult place –
having to weigh the risk of opening two-way travel and generating some revenue
against the virus entering the country and how ready are we really to deal with
I believe pushing for the vaccine to be rolled out for our
people will reduce the above risk.
My concerns have prompted me to share this column space with
Titikaveka Puna leader Alistair Macquarie who is advocating nationwide
vaccination as the minimum prerequisite before the two-way bubble commences.
Alistair has been tireless at leading the Titikaveka Puna and is regarded to be
one of the most outstanding Puna leaders on Rarotonga.
Macquarie says: “Greater improvement in contact tracing,
with a huge improvement in participation and support from our people is needed
to make it effective should there be an outbreak.”
Quoting from an Emergency Management Cook Islands (EMCI) and
Puna island-wide survey in 2020, Macquarie stated the Rarotonga population was
10,095. Of this 5180 are in the workforce. He understands that the CookSafe
system is averaging 1200 daily scans between Monday to Friday. The weekend
scans at major outlets are very poor despite registering between 800 to 1000
customers each – only about four percent of customers are actually scanning.
According to a Puna survey, 2500 people were customers of three shops on a
Sunday and that Sunday showed only 200 scans for the whole island.
This is especially concerning when contact tracing is all
about tracing a community’s movements.
Macquarie says the business sector is not being supportive
enough of the CookSafe system otherwise the employers would be making sure that
all their workers are scanning and using the system that in the end is going to
help us prepare for the opening of a travel bubble.
“We should be asking who is swiping, is it just shoppers at some
of the major outlets, some major businesses have refused to install the
CookSafe system, so is this really reflective that we are all in this together?
And I believe this shows we are not ready for a two-way bubble however much our
economy desperately needs it.”
Macquarie added that in the Quarantine Free Travel Two-Way
Travel information sheet issued by government there are 16 required outputs in
the pathway to achieve two-way travel. Four of the outputs have been ticked as
being achieved. The public need to be informed what is happening with the
remaining 12 outputs that need to be achieved before we commence a two-way
Following the advice of a recent inspection visit by
University of Auckland specialists of health systems, capacity and procedures
it was decided that isolation units would not be set up in the 10 village Puna
as this would place far too great a burden on both community and TMO resources,
explained Macquarie. “The recommendation was for a centralised mass quarantine
facility (managed isolation quarantine – MIQ). So an important question is
this; where is this central quarantine facility going to be set up, where is
the equipment for it…like bedding and personal hygiene facilities, catering and
“If a planeload comes in and there is one person aboard who
turns out to be infected, everyone that travelled on that plane goes into MIQ –
we don’t even have that facility ready.
“The coronavirus is going to keep wreaking havoc until
everyone is vaccinated, and the vaccine is what needs to happen for our people
at home. All the aforementioned concerns also have to be met. Remember two
vaccine doses are needed two weeks apart – we need to start now.”