Niue waits to see how Cooks-New Zealand ‘travel bridge’ works out

A resort in Niue Photo: AFP / Michael Runkel. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

ALOFI, Jul 20, 2020, RNZ. The premier of Niue will wait and see how a ‘travel bridge’ between the Cook Islands and New Zealand goes before joining a proposed travel bubble between the realm countries. Like the Cook Islands, Niue is part of the Realm of New Zealand and its tourism-dependent economy has also been ravaged by border closures, Radio New Zealand reported.

The island has been sealed off since March, with only Niueans allowed on a once-weekly flight where they must then spend two weeks in quarantine.

The premier, Dalton Tagelagi, told Dateline Pacific the island’s tourism industry has grown significantly in recent years, but that has all collapsed since the coronavirus came.

“It has taken a huge impact,” Mr Tagelagi said.

“At the moment we are sort of reverting back to self-sustaining mainly on land and sea trying to ride this out at the moment, back to the traditional way of doing things.”

In Mr Tagelagi’s first budget since he became premier in June, the government announced a $7.2 million deficit and the continuation of a wage subsidy programme.

But he said that could only last so long, and he was in talks with New Zealand, Australia and the Asian Development Bank about a significant increase in funds to see Niue through the pandemic.

“We normally get our recurrent support from New Zealand every year of $7 million. We’re hoping if we can get a little bit more than that as we move on to the new financial year,” he said.

“Anything up to $10 million or more, it really depends on how long this Covid’s gonna last.”

But, ultimately, Mr Tagelagi said he would prefer to see tourism resume on the small island, known for its crystal clear waters, rugged coral coast, and spectacular wildlife.

Niue was part of the travel bubble talks with New Zealand, Mr Tagelagi said, and he was keen for one among the realm countries.

Last week, Cook Islands deputy prime minister Mark Brown said he hoped a quarantine-free link between Rarotonga and Auckland would open in a matter of weeks.

The New Zealand government – while not as enthusiastic on the timeline – said talks were underway, especially as the prospects of a Trans-Tasman bubble forming any time soon continue to fade.

But Dalton Tagelagi conceded that Niue’s health infrastructure was not on the same level as Rarotonga, so he would wait and see how a New Zealand-Cook Islands link went before deciding about Niue.

“We’re just playing by ear and see what develops in New Zealand and of course the discussions about the opening up of the Cook Islands and New Zealand,” he said.

“We’ll be interested to also see the outcome of that. We’ll take it one step at a time, I guess.”

Niue’s quarantine rules will be reviewed in August, and Mr Tagelagi said he would not review them any earlier than that.

“It’s all about safety for us here. We’re very small in numbers in population, and we’re very vulnerable. There’s only one way in and out from here, we rely on New Zealand’s borders.”

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