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New Zealand, Cook Islands announce quarantine-free travel bubble

Muri Lagoon in the Cook Islands Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari/ 123RF. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WELLINGTONE, Dec 12, 2020, RNZ. In a joint statement this morning the prime ministers of the two countries, Jacinda Ardern and Mark Brown, said officials are working together to safely arrange two-way travel in the first quarter of next year, Radio New Zealand reported.

The Cook Islands are Covid free.

Ardern says the priority is and will remain keeping both countries safe from Covid-19.

No captionPhoto: 123rf
Before a two-way travel opens up, New Zealand will open up one-way quarantine-free travel from the Cook Islands as a first step for people who need to access essential services.

“The arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. It will allow people to travel more easily between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from Covid-19,” Ardern said.

Prime Minister Brown said free movement was integral to the Cook Islands’ recovery from the impact of Covid-19.

“This arrangement is the next step towards resuming many aspects of life in the Cook Islands that have been disrupted by Covid-19, including access to health and education, and reuniting family and friends.”

Air New Zealand said its teams are busy preparing to start two-way travel between here and the Cooks and is working closely with the government and airports on requirements.

Chief executive Greg Foran said safety will continue being the company’s top priority, and it is looking forward to being able to provide people the opportunity to travel again.

Edgewater Resort and Club Raro chief executive Andrew Whittaker said it’s huge news as the island has been suffering since the borders have been closed.

He said having some formal agreement in place is an early Christmas present.

“I just think it’s great to see. We understand the timeframe that it’s taken but as we know it’s just getting back to a bit of a new norm really and seeing how we go.

“We’re excited about the news today – hopefully we’ll hear a bit more about the progress over the next few days and before Christmas.”

But National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the Cook Islands bubble was taking too long to set up.

“Today’s announcement of ‘next steps’ in travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is an utterly meaningless statement that does no more than repeat that officials are still working on the issue.

“The Prime Minister must explain the delay when a month ago she said there was ‘progress’ and that it would only take ‘a couple of weeks’ before a bubble would be up and running once both sides were happy.”

Queensland border opens

Meanwhile, the first flight from New Zealand to Queensland in many months will arrive later today.

The Australian horticulture industry hopes the move will encourage New Zealanders to help with a shortage of fruit and vegetable pickers.

South Australians will also be able to visit the sunshine state.

Ardern still won’t put a timeline on any trans-Tasman travel bubble, although she says work remains underway.

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