International travel: NZ restarts Cook Islands flights, Thailand adds three cities to ‘sandbox’ while Japan extends travel ban

Tourists arriving to Rarotonga Cook Islands by plane at Rarotonga International Airport. More than 122,000 people visit the Cook Islands every year

In good news for the international travel community, both New Zealand and Thailand have eased some restrictions on overseas travel.

However, Japan has taken a different approach, extending its foreign traveller ban until at least the end of February.

Across the Tasman, Air New Zealand resumed services to the Cook Islands with an 8:45am flight from Auckland to Rarotonga this morning after the South Pacific destination reopened its international borders to Kiwi travellers.

As of today, vaccinated travellers who have been in New Zealand for a period of at least 10 days will be allowed to enter the Cook Islands if they can provide a negative PCR test that is no more than 48 hours old.

Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan said the airline has seen strong bookings during January.

“We’re really excited to help Kiwis start 2022 off with some relaxing island time, with strong demand for these flights in January and some seat availability in late January and February for travellers looking for an island escape,” Morgan said. 

“Also, for our customers travelling between 20-23 January, we’re trialling our new Economy Works and Works Deluxe breakfast offerings. Customers can expect some tasty delights like fresh pastries, vegetarian frittatas and breakfast wraps all served in sustainable bagasse service ware.”

In 2019, almost 110,000 New Zealanders headed to Rarotonga. With New Zealanders comprising two-thirds of all visitors to the Cook Islands and tourism being the mainstay of the economy, the resumption of quarantine free travel between the nations is a welcome sight. 

Krabi, Thailand (iStock/Oleh_Slobodeniuk)

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the country’s centre for COIVD-19 situation administration (CCSA) has approved a round of relaxed entry measures for international arrivals, reopening three more Sandbox destinations – Krabi, Phang-Nga, and Surat Thani (only Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan, and Ko Tao).

This means international travellers can now undergo Thailand’s 7-day mandatory stay in either Krabi, Phang-Na, Phuket, or Surat Thani (only Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan, and Ko Tao).

Under Thailand’s sandbox entry program, travellers are required to spend a week in an approved hotel located at one of the four listed destinations. However, visitors are not required to quarantine in their hotel and are allowed to roam freely within the sandbox destination they are staying in.

Until Tuesday, Phuket was the only approved sandbox destination.

To qualify for the program, travellers need to provide a vaccination certificate, a pre-arrival negative RT-PCR test result, prepaid 7-night’s accommodation in an approved hotel, prepaid RT-PCR tests for when in Thailand, and an insurance policy with coverage no less than US$50,000.

Jetstar resumed flights to Phuket from Sydney and Melbourne earlier this week.

Japan, on the other hand, has revealed its strict entry restrictions will remain in place until the end of February.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the extension on Tuesday to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, which he told reporters had been kept to a “minimum level”, thanks to the measures.

“We’ll maintain the current framework of measures until the end of February for the time being, while taking necessary measures from the perspective of humanitarian and national interests,” Kishida said, according to Al Jazeera.

Japan brought in some of the world’s strictest border restrictions in November last year, banning all foreign nationals who aren’t residents of Japan from entering the country.

Featured image: iStock/Oleh_Slobodeniuk

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