The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands has today said he expects a date will be confirmed next week for the initial phase allowing one-way quarantine free travel to Auckland.
Jacinda Ardern and the Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown, issued a joint statement today saying they had reached an agreement for an arrangement to facilitate quarantine-free travel between the two countries.
The Cook Islands have had no reported cases of Covid-19, New Zealand's total number of confirmed cases to date is 1736. There are currently still strict border-entry criteria for the Cook Islands but the 14-day quarantine requirement was removed on October 29.
New Zealand continues to require a 14-day managed isolation process for entry into New Zealand.
Brown told 1 NEWS today he would rather "hold off" an interview over the joint agreement, saying he's waiting for a date for the first phase of the quarantine-free travel arrangement to be confirmed next week.
Both Prime Ministers and their Cabinets have instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of 2021, the statement said today.
“The Arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. It will allow people to travel more easily between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from Covid-19,” Ardern said.
Brown welcomed progress, noting that the free movement of people between New Zealand and the Cook Islands is "central to our close relationship and integral to the Cook Islands’ recovery from Covid-19 impact".
“Quarantine-free access for travellers from the Cook Islands to New Zealand will provide for the movement of people for delivering and accessing essential services, while allowing officials to finalise preparations for a safe return to two-way quarantine-free travel,” Ardern said.
Expectation high for trans-Tasman bubble to follow.
The travel industry has welcomed the arrangement between the two countries but says a trans-Tasman bubble should follow quickly.
“Cook Islands – great! Now let’s get the trans-Tasman bubble going too and use a country-risk based model to bring together family and friends from both sides of the Tasman,” says Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ).
“Taking a risk-based approach for countries like the Cooks makes total sense,” Mr Tighe-Umbers says. “It allows travellers who pose no risk to New Zealand directly into the country and frees up valuable quarantine accommodation.
“The Cook Islands are ideal to test the safe zone concept but following it up quickly with an Australian safe zone is going to be critical for keeping beleaguered airlines and the wider aviation sector in business."
Tighe-Umbers says Australia represents a similar low-risk to the Cook Islands and "hundreds of Kiwi firms are desperate for the uptick a bubble would bring".
The safe zone with the Cook Islands means a shift to passenger separation operations at international airports – keeping travellers from safe countries physically separate from those at-risk countries.
Tighe-Umbers says the passenger separation work is nearing completion and he is hopeful of the first flights from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands will arrive long before March.