The Cook Islands could establish a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand before Australia, according to its Deputy Prime Minister, who reckons an air bridge between the two nations may open “within a week”.
Mark Brown told Newstalk ZB his government had been in discussions with New Zealand authorities to progress an air bridge between the two countries, with the latest conversation occurring on Monday night.
“I believe it was very encouraging,” Brown said. “It’s on the back of my own discussions with Deputy Prime Minister [Winston] Peters last week about the importance of opening what we’re calling an air bridge between the Cook Islands and New Zealand, specifically Rarotonga and Auckland and the importance of that for us for our economy.”
Brown added that the move wasn’t just about tourism, but also about the health of the Cook Islands’ residents.
“Also for a humanitarian perspective, allowing travellers between our countries without the need for the 14-day supervised quarantine,” he said.
“That’s having a big impact of people who need to go to New Zealand for medical services, elective surgeries, cancer check-ups and that sort of thing.”
However, a statement from Jacinda Ardern’s office suggested no timeline had been established, and that details were still being worked out.
“The Prime Minister spoke to the Cook Islands Prime Minister yesterday to convey that she has asked officials to work on timelines for reopening with realm countries,” a spokesperson for Ardern told the NZ Herald.
“There are no set dates yet, and any speculation at this stage would be very premature. The number one priority will continue to be the safety of both New Zealand and Realm countries. No one wishes to be responsible for COVID entering into the Pacific.”
According to the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, New Zealanders make up two-thirds of the Cook Islands’ international visitors, and could may well provide 100 per cent of visitors due to travel restrictions around the world, if a partnership were to open between the nations.
“With tourism responsible for over 70 per cent of the nation’s GDP, our economy has been decimated since we closed our borders in March,” the agency’s Australasian general manager, Graeme West, told the NZ Herald.
“We know there are many people keen for their annual getaway to the sun and I can assure them they would receive an especially warm Cook Islands welcome.
“Swimming, snorkelling and cocktails sound pretty good right now. The Cook Islands is proud to have remained entirely COVID-free and the government will continue to take every precaution to ensure the safety of its people and visitors.”
Featured image source: iStock/Gerold Grotelueschen