The Cook Islands are in the process of adopting New Zealand's contact-tracing system and setting up their own Covid-19 testing lab ahead of a reciprocal quarantine-free travel bubble arrangement said to be happening in the "first quarter" of 2021.
The first quarantine-free flight from the small island nation touched down in Auckland today, and Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce president Fletcher Melvin told Breakfast it "brought a smile to my face".
"Many people have actually put off their return flight to New Zealand in the last week, so it was a big gamble for them that they could get on this flight and go through the airport without quarantining," Melvin said.
"It's just way too expensive for Cook Islanders to do that, and there's no need and we've been saying that for a long time."
According to official records from the World Health Organization, the Cook Islands have have not had any cases of Covid-19, and no deaths.
Melvin said the Cook Islands had nearly completed its own Covid-19 testing lab facilities, and that it is currently in discussions to adopt New Zealand's contact-tracing system — two measures which must be completed before a reciprocal quarantine-free travel bubble can open up.
"The hope is, according to the word that we've got from New Zealand and from our government, is that there will be a bubble established both ways this quarter," Melvin said.
"This is the first step towards that. There are a few minor things that we have to clear up and this will allow us to do that — to test those systems."
Rapid Covid-19 testing kits have been available in the Cook Islands, but they are "very expensive and we only have a limited amount", Melvin said.
The Cook Islands laboratory is due to be completed my "mid-February".
Kiwis returning to the Cook Islands will be a significant relief for the country's tourism industry.
"It costs about a million dollars a week, according to our last GDP figures," Melvin said.
"It's a lot of money and we just can't sustain that."