Auckland Airport welcomes quarantine free international travellers for the first time in nearly 10 months

Cook Islanders are now able to travel to New Zealand without completing a 14-day stay in Covid-19 managed isolation.

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The travel bubble with the Cook Islands kicks in today, and the first passengers are set to arrive. Source: Breakfast

The Government announced the travel bubble last week following confirmation of Cook Islands’ Covid-free status.

It will be the first time in 10 months international arrivals into Auckland Airport from the islands will be able to skip quarantine, with the first flight arriving at Auckland Airport today.

“The touch-down of the first quarantine-free flight from the Cook Islands today will be a special moment for Cook Islanders in both countries who are now able to reconnect more easily,” said Scott Tasker, Auckland Airport's general manager of aeronautical commercial.

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“Air travel is important for trade, business or just heading off on an exciting adventure – and also for connecting friends and whanau for life’s precious moments is what really makes it special,” Tasker said.

Passengers arriving from the Cook Islands will use a streamlined Safe Travel Path, which uses airline slot management, rigorous cleaning and other operational tools to create separation between Cook Island travellers and those passengers arriving from other parts of the world.

Cook Islands arrivals are also expected to use the New Zealand Government's Covid-19 Tracer app.

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The first quarantine-free travellers to arrive from overseas in nearly 10 months won’t mingle with those from other countries, general manager Scott Tasker told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

“We know that airports have a vital role in managing the risks of Covid-19 transmission. In what is a highly complex operational system of interconnected organisations, it’s been through hard work and collective effort that the first quarantine-free flights into New Zealand since April 2020 have become operational,” Tasker said.

The first flight took off from Rarotonga at 7.45am local time and was expected to land in Auckland at 11.10am, Air New Zealand said in a statement. 

“We have been encouraged by an increase in bookings following the announcement, especially for January and February," said airline CEO Greg Foran. "The first couple of flights inbound have had strong uptake, which is terrific.

"We knew there was pent up demand from Cook Islanders waiting to come to New Zealand without quarantining. We’re thrilled to bring the first wave of Cook Islanders who meet the quarantine-free requirements into New Zealand.

"We see this as a really positive step towards a two-way airbridge with Rarotonga.”

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Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce President Fletcher Melvin says the next step is a reciprocal bubble arrangement. Source: Breakfast

The expectation of only two flights per week under the one-way, quarantine-free arrangement with the Cook Islands made a Safe Travel Path a practical interim step, following discussions with border agencies and government officials.

The travel bubble does not apply to New Zealanders wishing to travel to the Cook Islands.

"We said we would take a phased approach to resuming two-way travel and will do so only once all safety protocols can be met," Jacinda Ardern said last week.

Rules are still in place which only limits Cook Islanders and current holders of Cook Islands work and residence permits to enter the Cook Islands.

A two-way travel bubble with the Cook Islands is still being worked towards by both Governments, with an aim for it to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Before going back to the Cook Islands, returnees would need to take a Covid-19 test and have a negative result within 96 hours of take off.