Now is a good time to address this with Cook Islands finally opening for business on January 13. Understandably there exists anxiety. I would like to make a case for optimism and excitement. Let’s examine the critical factors, writes Associate Professor John Dunn.
perhaps the most important. The Cook Islands is almost unique as a nation
having had zero Covid and achieving 98 percent vaccination in those 12 and
over. It’s extraordinary and I believe due to a sense of oneness and identity. Society
is remarkably homogeneous and used to working toward a common goal.
– whether the Churches, Are Ariki, or Government – have been united and the
result is obvious.
anti-vaxxers are inevitable in any population with some so far down the
Facebook rabbit hole they can’t be reached by reason. Facts don’t help. They
are thankfully rare in the Cook Islands. One of the more cogent reasons to get
vaccinated is for others, especially the children who don’t qualify, and the
aged or unwell who remain at risk despite the vaccine. Community at work.
where the Government has, in my opinion, done extremely well. Initially,
arrivals will only be from New Zealand, a controlled, aligned, and trustworthy
partner in this exercise and the source of much of our advice and
expertise. While Delta continues to
circulate widely geographically, it has not launched exponentially in NZ as
many of the modellers had forecasted.
appear steady at about 200/day rather than the thousands predicted. This may
change but there is cautious hope that the very high vaccination rates (though
lagging Cook Islands) may just be doing the job.
importantly, passengers will be filtered and scrutinised: only those double
vaccinated and shown to be virus-free by extremely sensitive saliva PCR testing
close to their flight, are permitted entry. You can’t do better than that.
This is the
same strategy I use for all staff and patients in my hospital in Auckland. You
can say with confidence at any one time that no one in the building has the
virus. It creates a marvellous “safe haven” feel and builds confidence. We will
achieve the same for the whole of Cook Islands. Importantly, it also gives the
travellers themselves confidence.
underemphasised by mathematical modellers. This virus does not transmit
outside. The Cook Islands’ way of life is extremely “ventilated”. We live in
the fresh air. Windows and doors are and should be, wide open to provide
moves around in aerosol form and easily hitches a ride when left floating about
in the stagnant air of a shut-off room.
especially loudly, singing and coughing are great spreaders. If you must, space
yourselves and do it in the breeze. Those SE trade winds are potently
a mathematical model which I feel is excessively gloomy. It has unfortunately
had wide reporting locally and promoted some unwarranted panic. It is based on
loose assumptions and the authors themselves admit it is a “very rough
debating the clever methodology employed, we can go straight to the conclusions
and conclude they don’t make sense.
predicts up to 2000 cases and 10 deaths on Rarotonga. That’s roughly 20 percent
of a universally vaccinated population infected. NZ by comparison has had 9000
cases or 0.18 percent of a partially vaccinated population infected. And a
total of 41 deaths among 5 million people.
the model needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It is important to warn but
not helpful to alarm.
highly transmissible and I agree is likely to seep under the door one day.
However, I personally doubt it will result in Armageddon.
a more probable “virus arrival” picture.
Jim, a 69-year-old
retired farmer from Birkenhead, has a negative saliva PCR on Thursday. Later
that day he picks up Delta in the supermarket bakery section, eyeing up a cream
donut over the shoulder of a recently unemployed unvaccinated individual.
He and his wife
Cheryl leave at 0800 Saturday on NZ946 AKL-RAR arriving Friday.
An ei, a nu
and a swim later he’s feeling pretty chuffed. This lasts until Monday when he
gets a tickly throat and the tiare doesn’t smell as good.
solid citizen, and following Te Marae Ora (TMO) advice, he gets a PCR at the
Hospital and then isolates until the result comes back positive later that day.
take over managing the isolation and check Jim and Cheryl frequently.
positive on Wednesday as does one of the seven resort staff they had contact
with who is then also isolated. Fortunately, no one in the well-ventilated
restaurant they visited is affected.
All three have
minimal symptoms. Being fully vaccinated, their viral load declines rapidly and
their ability to pass it on (the Secondary Attack Rate) is limited. Similarly,
they don’t get too unwell and don’t need hospitalisation. That’s the vaccine
doing its job.
days they are all no longer infectious and after a further short isolation
period, Cook Islands TMO and NZ Ministry of Health agree on their repatriation.
it could be worse. More could be infected and Jim might get really sick or die.
However, even then with the measures already in place, there is an excellent
chance things will be quickly contained.
No one knows
the future. There is a feeling that globally this virus won’t get suppressed
until everyone is vaccinated or everyone has had it. The best news in two years
has just come from Japan where Delta may have mutated itself out of existence.
Daily cases have dropped overnight from 25,000 to 200.
Islands (almost) everyone is vaccinated and certainly, everyone arriving will
be. It’s as good as it gets. While there may be new variants around the corner
our current situation is strong and about to be further strengthened with
booster shots and childhood vaccination. We have the opportunity to make hay
while the sun shines
take a big breath (while socially distanced), re-join the world, and restart
Professor John Dunn is Honorary Medical Advisor to the Office of the Prime
Minister Cook Islands. He is also a visiting surgeon to Rarotonga Hospital and
owner of Motu Villas.
Sally Wyatt on 28/11/2021
Thank you John for this more realistic take on what might happen when Covid-19 arrives in the Cooks. We are watching the Omicron variant now, of course, in the hope that existing vaccinations provide useful defence against it.