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Fast-tracking our economy back to pre- Covid levels

Tuesday 5 April 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion

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Fast-tracking our economy  back to pre- Covid levels
(File photo) Prime Minister Mark Brown. Photo: LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 21031938

Today I would like to talk about the future again – but this time in terms of our national economy and our continuing journey on the path to economic recovery, writes Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Kia Orana,

In my last column I spoke about the future in terms of our recovery from the current Covid-19 outbreak and how we are now able to start gradually easing off on some of the Covid-related health and safety regulations that have helped get us this far.

Although inconvenient and frustrating at times, these rules and restrictions have done their job, enabling us to protect ourselves and our communities as we move towards and past the peak of infections on Rarotonga.

And while right now there is still a need for continued vigilance in our management of this outbreak – particularly with regard to Aitutaki and the rest of the Pa Enua – we can also start to turn our attention towards what life in the Cook Islands post-pandemic will look like.

So today I would like to talk about the future again – but this time in terms of our national economy and our continuing journey on the path to economic recovery.

And make no mistake, things are looking up.

With Air New Zealand about to expand their schedule to 10 flights a week and Jetstar returning to provide some much-needed competition with three weekly flights from June 1 onwards, we can expect to see our visitor arrivals increasing in the coming months.

This boost of tourism numbers will also be complemented by the changes we have made to our border regulations recently.

Most notably, these include:

  • Allowing pre-departure RAT tests as well as PCR tests for visitors travelling here, a change that is already in place and which significantly reduces the cost of a trip to the Cook Islands, especially for families.
  • Waiving the vaccination requirement for all travellers aged 16 years and under from May 1, in line with New Zealand requirements and following Te Marae Ora recommendations.
  • Allowing visiting Australian passport holders to enter the Cook Islands from April 12, with all other travellers permitted entry from May 1.
  • Also from May 1, extending the pre-departure test period for RAT tests from 24 hours to 48 hours, while also updating our regulations so that pre-departure Covid tests for travellers to the Cook Islands can be taken anywhere, not just in New Zealand, allowing travellers from Australia or other countries to travel direct to the Cook Islands as long as they meet all other requirements.

In addition to making it easier for tourists to visit, another important issue we need to address is our labour supply.

As well as supporting tourism growth, the regulation changes I’ve just mentioned will also remove some of the barriers currently preventing our Cook Islands businesses employing workers from overseas, and soon these international workers will once again be able to travel to the Cook Islands to support our economy as needed.

In fact, I understand that some businesses have already completed their overseas recruitment and selection processes, and are just waiting for the new border regulations to kick in so that their new workers are able to travel here as soon as that happens.

The Ministry of Finance & Economic Management is also currently in discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration and Te Marae Ora on how best to facilitate the arrival of overseas workers so that we may alleviate our labour shortage as soon as possible and help businesses as we move into the high season of our re-emerging tourism industry.

As you can see, we have had to be agile and flexible in responding to the changing situation and also to meet the demands of regrowing our economy. We are committed to doing what we can to help fast-track our economy back to pre-Covid levels.

Our economic recovery won’t happen overnight, but it is happening right now and the one thing we can all be sure of is that things are only going to get better from here on out.

Kia Manuia.