Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands should be in place “before the end of the year”.
Ms Ardern said Cabinet today considered a draft of the 'Arrangement to Facilitate Quarantine-Free Travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand' agreement, which is “near conclusion”.
The arrangement, which outlines the health and border requirements for each country to meet in order to recommence quarantine-free travel, was reported to the Cook Islands Cabinet last Friday and the New Zealand Cabinet today.
Ms Ardern said officials on both sides would be travelling between the Cook Islands and New Zealand to do work on the ground in the next 10 days.
“Another factor is the maritime border, we need to make sure from both sides the rigour placed on the airport side is placed on the maritime side as well,” Ms Ardern said.
She explained that all people currently in New Zealand would be eligible to travel to the Cook Islands under the agreement and if you don’t have a New Zealand passport you will need to meet Visa requirements for each nation.
Ms Ardern expects to have another update on the travel bubble available for Kiwis in two weeks' time.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said the free movement of people between the Cook Islands and New Zealand was important to sustain economic and social connections.
“We are moving forward together with New Zealand in a way that balances economic and social needs with the importance of maintaining strong public health efforts in both our countries, and cooperation with travel sectors to implement safe travel protocols," he said.
"The elimination by New Zealand of community transmission of Covid-19 100 days ago enabled some resumption by the Cook Islands of arrivals from New Zealand only."
The island nation closed its borders in March and has remained free of Covid-19.
Ms Ardern said other Pacific nations, including Fiji, will not be considered until the Cook Islands travel bubble has been established.
Last week Auckland Airport announced it’s planning to create a "safe travel zone" in its international airport to separate people travelling between "bubble" countries and those coming from the rest of the world.
Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown airports are also putting their own systems in place, the New Zealand Aviation Coalition confirmed.
With most of the new arrivals coming into Auckland's airport, officials there say the planning is in its final stages, but the separate zones won't be operational until after a travel bubble is announced.
"Auckland Airport is building the new internal walls to allow for the terminal to be separated, and we are working through the final stages of planning with border agencies and airlines to enable the physical and operational separation," chief executive Adrian Littlewood says.
Zone A, the safe travel area, would be the main pier to the south, containing gates one to 10. It would include people travelling to and from countries with a travel bubble, and people leaving on international flights after being in the country for 14 days.
That zone will contain retail and food and beverage options, Auckland Airport says.
The west pier, containing gates 15 to 18, will be the "health management area" for other international travellers.
It includes arrivals who need to go into managed isolation or quarantine, as well as people transiting through Auckland Airport to go elsewhere.
Instead of shops, transit passengers will be able to get food and beverages from vending machines, Auckland Airport says.
Both zones will have increased hygiene protocols including hand sanitiser stations and increased cleaning.