The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Henry Puna have welcomed the completion of phase one in the establishment of a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Island.
Negotiations on the text of an ‘Arrangement to Facilitate Quarantine-Free Travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand’ are at the point of conclusion and this was reported to the Cook Islands Cabinet last Friday and the New Zealand Cabinet today.
The Arrangement outlines the health and border requirements for each country to meet in order to recommence quarantine-free travel, and annexes provide further detail on the implementation, including border and travel protocols.
Phase two will see health and border officials from both countries undertake quality assurance and system stress test checks to ensure the requirements in the Arrangement can be implemented on the ground.
Once assurance of the arrangements is guaranteed, phase three is a decision from the respective Cabinets that the Arrangement and on the ground measures can be started safely and quarantine free travel can begin.
Both Governments are hoping to have a travel bubble in place before the end of the year, and as soon as it can be safely achieved.
“The Arrangement sets up the legal basis for the travel bubble and quarantine travel between New Zealand and the Cooks and all the rules and requirements that we need in place to make it work safely,” Prime Minister Ardern said.
“This Arrangement recognises the constitutional relationship and special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, and provides the framework to recommence travel without the need to quarantine on arrival in both countries.
“Once in force, the Arrangement will facilitate the return to normal travel between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19.
“We now need to make sure the commitments made in the Arrangement can be met and that both countries have robust health and border system that stop the spread of COVID.
“We need to stress test the arrangement, ensure testing and surveillance systems are strong, that we have contact tracing systems in place in the event of a case and that both countries can ensure those eligible for travel within the New Zealand/Cook Islands travel bubble meet the requisite health and border criteria as detailed in the Arrangement.”
Prime Minister Puna said that the free movement of people between the Cook Islands and New Zealand was vitally important to sustain economic and social connections.
“We are moving forward together with New Zealand in a way that balances economic and social needs with the importance of maintaining strong public health efforts in both our countries, and cooperation with travel sectors to implement safe travel protocols.
“As part of its COVID-19 response, the Cook Islands closed all air and sea borders in March. We have been COVID free to this day. The elimination by New Zealand of community transmission of COVID-19 100 days ago enabled some resumption by the Cook Islands of arrivals from New Zealand only.
“On the 19 June the Cook Islands resumed quarantine free travel arrivals from Auckland only for Cook Islands residents who meet Cook Islands health and border entry requirements including 30 days prior residence in New Zealand. Since the 19 June, we’ve continued to strengthen our border and health capabilities including stress testing. That work combined with recent joint efforts between New Zealand and Cook Islands health and border officials through this Arrangement assures me both Governments are giving this matter utmost priority and we will be able to have commence quarantine free travel between ourselves as soon as it can be safely achieved.
“We look forward to once again welcoming family and visitors from New Zealand without the restriction of quarantine on both ends, when all the appropriate measures are in place.”
There will be a report back on progress in two weeks’ time.
The two Prime Ministers will sign the Arrangement once the conditions for safe travel to recommence are in place. Officials will work closely with industry to progress this work.