The New Zealand and Cook Islands governments have agreed to commence quarantine-free travel between the two countries from Monday 17 May.
Travellers in the new bubble will have to have been in either the Cook Islands or New Zealand for at least 14 days before travel.
This means anyone wanting to travel between Australia and the Cook Islands would need to spend at least 14 days in New Zealand in the middle.
There will be no requirement for a pre-departure COVID-19 test, but travellers will have to complete a travel declaration, provide a health declaration and submit to random health checks at airports.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said two-way, quarantine-free travel is a significant step in both countries’ COVID-19 recovery and a direct result of their successful responses to the pandemic.
“It will mean families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands’ tourism sector and recovery,” she said.
“That we can take this step in our recovery so soon after opening the trans-Tasman bubble highlights the benefits of our COVID-19 management, and the opportunities it is now providing New Zealand and our neighbours.
“This is a world-leading arrangement and it’s important to remember many other countries still have bans in place on travel for holiday purposes.”
Ardern said a huge amount of work had gone into ensuring the two-way bubble was safe and that the Cook Islands was set up and ready for it.
“The health and safety of the people of the Cook Islands has at all times been paramount,” she said.
“Vaccination, while not an answer on its own, will provide an added layer of protection once rolled out, and we continue to advance these plans alongside the Cook Islands.”
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said: “Since my visit to New Zealand at the end of March, and various engagements with Prime Minister Ardern and members of her Cabinet, we have jointly elevated effort towards bolstering readiness and response capabilities against COVID-19 in preparation for the safe resumption of two-way quarantine-free travel between our countries.
“The learnings from the trans-Tasman arrangement have informed further bolstering of response capabilities by both governments in preparation for commencement of the Cook Islands-New Zealand quarantine-free travel arrangement.
“In close partnership with New Zealand, we are continuing to work through final details for the deployment of vaccines to the Cook Islands and expect to provide further details on the vaccine rollout within the next week few weeks.
“I acknowledge with deepest gratitude our people’s continued trust in our leadership and whole of society endeavour to keep our people safe from the virus, and the incredible work of a steadfast team of committed officials working in close partnership with our community and industry and their New Zealand counterparts.”
Commencement of the bubble is subject to a final set of criteria being met, including airline and airport preparedness, all necessary protocols and frameworks being in place, and final sign-off from the New Zealand’s Director-General of Health and the Cook Islands’ Secretary of Health.
Graeme West, general manager of Cook Islands Tourism Corporation for Australasia, said Kiwis comprise two-thirds of all visitors to the Cook Islands, and that there was a special relationship between the two countries.
“Kiwis are always welcomed very warmly and I think this will be even more evident as Kiwis return to our tropical paradise,” he said.
“We’ll be doing everything possible to ensure people have a fantastic holiday. We’re ready to go and to showcase everything that we’re renowned for – our warm tropical weather, stunning natural beauty, friendliness and hospitality and our great food.”
West said the Cook Islands was very fortunate to have remained COVID-free, and that the safety and wellbeing of visitors was being taken very seriously.
Contact tracing will play an important part in ensuring that quarantine free-travel continues, according to West, and visitors will be encouraged to use Cooksafe and Cooksafe+ apps to assist.
The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation has also produced a Cook Islands Promise – a short list of what is needed to keep locals and visitors safe.
The new bubble is the second one New Zealand has formed in as many months, with two-way travel between Australia and the Land of the Long White Cloud kicking off in April.
Featured image source: iStock/simonbradfield