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Atiu hopes for ‘return to normal’ after reopening

Thursday 21 April 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in National, Outer Islands

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Atiu hopes for ‘return to normal’ after reopening
Roger and Kura Malcolm with their staff from Atiu Villas. ATIU VILLAS/ 21120614

As Atiu and other islands in the Pa Enua begin to open, tourist operators are hoping for a ‘return to normal’.

Non-essential travel between Rarotonga and Atiu re-opened on April 18, and Atiu Villas owner Roger Malcolm said he was looking forward to “basically having a normal life again”.

“When you didn’t have the regular air service, contact between yourself and the other islands was cut off,” Malcolm said.

“It was just frustrating, everything took far longer to get here, and even general maintenance on the island was a lot slower.”

Malcolm said staff turnover had been “close to 100 per cent”, although he was supported by the wage subsidy.

“Part of the problem for us was the fact that every time people wanted to book us, they had to delay and delay because we weren’t open,” he said.

“But now we’re open again, the conditions are getting better, we have been preparing for this over the past few months.”

Malcolm said he expected occupancy rates at Atiu Villas to be about 30 per cent until June, but then would pick up again afterwards.

“When New Zealanders could visit last year between July and August last year, before the borders closed again, there was a really good response, particularly for the boat tours in the Pa Enua, and we don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be the same this time,” Malcolm said.

However, as Covid-19 made its way through the Pa Enua, with cases now in Aitutaki, Penrhyn and Mauke, Malcolm said the possibility of it arriving in Atiu was “extremely high”.

“We just have to prepare for it, and hope the health services on the Pa Enua are resourced enough to respond to it,” he said.

Atiu mayor Noora Paratainga said the experience of not having regular travel to and from the island was not so bad because “we are used to living in a remote place anyway”.

Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health had met Paratainga and other members of the island council, and discussed with them how to prepare for the likelihood of Covid-19 entering the island.

“I’m really pleased with TMO, they’ve come to us with a really good programme,” Paratainga said.

“They taught us how to isolate people with Covid-19, and what security measures need to be in place.

“They could have easily just met us and left us, but instead they’ve promised to keep in contact.”

Travel to the Northern Groups islands of Manihiki, Rakahanga and Penrhyn will begin on April 25, while travel to Pukapuka, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia will likely resume on May 1.