A group of passengers were removed from an Air New Zealand flight bound for Rarotonga this morning as Wellington grapples with a Covid scare.
Wellington is at Alert Level 2 following the Covid-19 positive tourist from Sydney's visit to the capital over the weekend.
Despite the Cook Islands Government deciding to keep the quarantine travel bubble open following the tourist’s positive Covid test, some passengers bound for Rarotonga were abruptly removed from an 8.55am flight today.
At a media briefing this afternoon, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there were "a few people" on a flight who were taken off by the Cook Islands Government based on the information supplied, as they wanted to interview them before take off.
"Other than that, the Cook Islands bubble remains open."
He said any changes would be up to the Cook Islands.
Stuff reports Ian Ryan and his partner were due to go on a 10-day holiday to the Cook Islands today but boarding stopped midway and some passengers were removed from the flight.
The flight left New Zealand minus a number of passengers who were allegedly on a list of people who were not allowed to travel, according to Ryan.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson told Stuff the offloading of passengers was at the request of the Cook Islands Government.
“We were notified that the Cook Islands Government would not permit entry for certain passengers on NZ940 today.”
A spokesperson for Air New Zealand says the Cook Islands Ministry of Health (Te Marae Ora or TMO) released a statement yesterday, requesting the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) to issue a Section 9A notice to refuse uplift of persons of interest due to depart Auckland for Rarotonga.
The cohort of travellers impacted numbered 13 in total, the statement said.
"Te Marae Ora requested refusal to uplift to allow TMO prioritisation of resources and staff to mitigate risk whilst TMO continue efforts to contact trace, interview and where necessary isolate the 114 Wellington-originating arrivals from the last 4 flights," the statement said.
"In addition, via the Online Contact Information form required of all travellers 24 hours prior to travel, TMO received confirmation from the persons of interest that they originated from and or were present in Wellington, New Zealand on and from Saturday 19 June and it was assessed by TMO that a deferral in arrival will further allow TMO time to undertake direct investigations with each passenger regarding their movements in Wellington and therefore associated risk to the Cook Islands prior to travel."
Cook Islands Chair of the Border Easement Taskforce Tepaeru Herrmann said: “Our ability to identify and offload these persons of interest before this morning’s flight is a testament to our systems and processes doing what they have been designed to do in providing additional layers of protection to the Cook Islands.
"It should be noted the situation in Wellington is still evolving, and this pause in arrival for persons of interest will allow us invaluable time to observe and assess the situation in Wellington, NZ which ultimately impacts on our own risk profile and primary objective to prevent the arrival of Covid-19 to the Cook Islands.”
A spokesperson for TMO told 1 NEWS it would take a situation where further Covid cases emerge to consider the Cook Islands closing the travel bubble with New Zealand.
"At this stage no. A decision will be made if new case is identified in Wellington or in any part of New Zealand," the spokesperson said.