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‘Distorted view’ of travel to the Pa Enua

Tuesday 1 February 2022 | Written by Te Tuhi Kelly | Published in On the Street, Opinion

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‘Distorted view’ of travel to the Pa Enua
Te Tuhi Kelly. PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/191011111

I have noticed over the last two years of Covid the parochial mutterings from the Pa Enua to keep their islands closed to those who don’t live or reside there, writes Te Tuhi Kelly, Leader of the Progressive Party of the Cook Islands.

We are being given a distorted view of travel to the Pa Enua. On the https://COVID19.gov.ck/travel-pa-enua website there is information relating to travel for anyone to the Pa Enua. It explains that travel to the Pa Enua has been categorised by two (2) bubbles.

Bubble 1: Rarotonga and Aitutaki and Bubble 2: Rarotonga and other Pa Enua (except Aitutaki). For all travel in both bubbles, the following travel arrangements must be met.

Bubble 1: Travel from Rarotonga to Aitutaki

A. Provide a negative result from a supervised Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) administered on the day of departure to Aitutaki. A Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) testing facility is available at the Rarotonga Airport. If you are transiting directly from New Zealand to Aitutaki, a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) test is required.

B. Provide evidence of full vaccination or has a Pa Enua Travel exemption.

Bubble 2: Travel from Rarotonga to other Pa Enua (except Aitutaki)

A. Provide a negative result from a supervised Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) administered on the day of departure. A Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) testing facility is available at the Airport

B. Provide evidence of full vaccination or has a Pa Enua Travel exemption.

C. Has resided in the Cook Islands for a continuous period of 7 days before the day of departure.

D. Sign a declaration confirming that they have been in the Cook Islands for 7 consecutive days.

Then we have the section that relates to exemptions for Pa Enua travel.

Pa Enua Travel Exemptions

Persons who are unvaccinated may apply for a Pa Enua travel exemption. Exemptions will be granted to applicants who meet the following criteria:

A. Applicant was resident in the Cook Islands on 13 January 2022.

B. Has not travelled outside the Cook Islands during the period from 13 January 2022 until the date of application

C. Does not intend to travel outside of the Cook Islands before travelling to the Pa Enua under this exemption.

To apply for a Pa Enua Travel exemption email: tmo.exemptions@cookislands.gov.ck

It is the Pa Enua travel exemptions aspect that I want to focus on. You know that we have fundamental human rights that are guaranteed under various international, regional, and local conventions that we as a nation have signed up to and the Constitution of the Cook Islands.

The particular clause I want to focus on relates to, Fundamental human rights and freedoms 64 - (1) It is hereby recognised and declared that in the Cook Islands there exist, and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion, opinion, belief, or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms:  (B) The right of the individual to equality before the law and to the protection of the law.

It seems clear cut that if you are unvaccinated, you can apply for an exemption to travel from Rarotonga to and from and within the Pa Enua apart from Aitutaki. Now I have noticed over the last two years of Covid the parochial mutterings from the Pa Enua to keep their islands closed to those who don’t live or reside there. With the imminent opening of the borders pre-January 13, 2022, those mutterings became a crescendo of noise with their MPs and Cabinet and Government as a whole. You would of course pick this up through anecdotal discussions, social media, and the news media about keeping the island Covid free and to restrict, hinder or stop any unvaccinated person from visiting those islands.

So, the question then becomes, if Te Marae Ora (TMO) Ministry of Health Cook Islands is saying that as an unvaccinated person you can apply for an exemption to travel to the Pa Enua, what if in fact the Pa Enua Island Councils are saying that they will not allow these people to enter. I think that TMO are fomenting a rort by keeping people not from the Pa Enua on side with one set of exemption rules whilst at the same time doing backdoor deals to allow the Pa Enua to refuse entry.

That is discriminatory according to the law of the land and illegal, according to the Constitution of our country and shows a clear demarcation of those vaxed and those unvaxed who will be treated differently. This then pushes the unvaxed into those disadvantaged, those marginalised people of our country and goes against the fundamental Christian values we have. Under our Constitution the law must provide equal protection for everyone, the fact that TMO is stating one thing and thereby encouraging or appears colluding with the Pa Enua Island councils shows their true colours. This discrimination directly or indirectly if it’s true, against a continuing marginalised section of our community says a lot for how we as a nation are being governed.

So, imagine how that makes you feel if you are borne of the Pa Enua but brought up in Rarotonga and are unvaccinated for religious or personal beliefs and you want to visit the land of your birthright. You apply and get an exemption, do the RAT test and once you fly home you can’t get off the plane because the Pa Enua say no. Whose running our country, Government or Pa Enua.