"I believe Mark Brown is misleading our anxious and desperate business sector, all the people in our country who are hurting financially and giving us false hope."
In the last few days the Ministry of Foreign Affairs &
Immigration and the Office of the Prime Minister issued a joint statement
claiming that “Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and New Zealand Prime
Minister Jacinda Ardern have confirmed May for the Cook Islands to start
receiving visitors from New Zealand and rollout of Cook Islands vaccination
Now PM Mark Brown has stated May 1 as the day the two-way
travel bubble will open with New Zealand. I believe Mark Brown is misleading
our anxious and desperate business sector, all the people in our country who
are hurting financially and giving us false hope.
There was never an agreement between Brown and Ardern to
fully open to all NZ visitors and for the Covid vaccine to begin rolling out in
May. That press release was, in my view misleading and designed to look like
these two major, much needed developments, were definitely going to happen.
Not once has PM Ardern said that the travel bubble between
our two countries would commence in May – what she has said on NZ television is
that is “there’s still a lot of work to be done before the Cook Islands is
ready for a two-way travel bubble with New Zealand.” She has said the NZ
government is working hard to make the travel bubble happen in May, but as for
the past delays, she could not explain the reason for these as she does not
work for the Cook Islands Ministry of Health.
As for news of the vaccine rolling out in May – confirmation
of that was sought from the NZ Ministry of Health because it is something that
so many of us want to happen and happen as quickly as possible before the
two-way travel starts,
NZ Health Senior Media Adviser Luke Chivers confirmed the
following: “We are working towards a May commencement for two-way
quarantine-free travel, and progressing the necessary remaining work to ensure
it can be done safely, but a specific timeframe for Covid-19 vaccination has
not been agreed. We are committed to ensuring Covid-19 vaccination in the Cook
Islands can start as soon as possible, and our work on resolving outstanding
issues includes negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and logistical
So for PM Brown to issue a statement about an agreement with
Ardern is really irresponsible. It gets our hopes up. And when it doesn’t
happen, you can be sure that PM Brown will turn around and say, “we were ready,
but PM Ardern would not support two-way travel”.
What PM Ardern has talked about the Cook Islands needing to
have in place before we can even hope to expect the return of Kiwi visitor is:
a fully operational, efficient and heavily used contact tracing system and
ability to conduct surge (mass) testing. There are many other requirements that
also need to be completed as reported by Titikaveka Puna leader Alistair
Macquarie – an advocate for vaccine first before travel bubble.
If the travel bubble unfortunately does not happen on May 1
as we so desperately need, it will not be the fault of NZ authorities. We can
only look to ourselves for not being ready in terms of response, preparedness
and capacity. And at the end of the day, the decision will rest with PM Ardern.
Not PM Mark Brown.