New Zealand’s travel bubble with Cook Islands will happen before 2021

A draft agreement has been drawn up between the two countries and Ardern said officials would verify it within the next 10 days.

The final phase of the arrangement requires signing-off by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and his Cook Islands counterpart.

But it could still be months before Kiwis can fly quarantine-free to the island nation.

“The way that I would categorise the approach from Cabinet at the moment is ‘caution’. We absolutely believe we have a duty to make sure we investigate it fully to make this arrangement possible, but we’re moving very cautiously – we know what’s at stake.

“It’s not just our economy – it’s also our health status as well.”

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the travel bubble with the Cook Islands should be open by the end of the year. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

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Ms Ardern wasn’t willing to commit to a date the arrangement would be operational as there could be setbacks but said she expected another progress update in two weeks.

“We are giving those milestones just to give people those updates being done,” she said.

“It is not a simple exercise and it is one where we are exercising that caution because the last thing anyone wants is to reopen travel only to have it close down because it hasn’t been done properly.”

It’s likely only New Zealand passport holders will be able to fly freely to the Cook Islands with other passport holders being eligible to travel there, but still subject to their visa conditions and requirements.

Ms Ardern said Cabinet was aware it would mean domestic tourism dollars being spent overseas.

“But if all of the public health measures are in place, protecting New Zealand’s tourism industry is not a reason to stop people with New Zealand passports being able to travel within the Cook Islands and New Zealand,” she said.

Ms Ardern said airports would need to guarantee they could provide safe travel separate from other passengers.

But it’s unlikely people will need to return a negative test before their trip to the Cooks.

“That’s not at this stage the way quarantine-free was looking to work, but we are looking at health checks at the border and declarations at the border as part of that additional assurance.

“But the whole part of establishing this whole regimen is assurance is that both the Cook Islands and New Zealand are considered to be COVID-free but that doesn’t mean we won’t have extra stages of assurance.”

Ardern says she hopes the travel bubble with the Cook Islands will be up and running by the end of the year.Source:Supplied

New Zealand was “entirely focused” on establishing the travel bubble with the Realm countries as it has a responsibility to them, said Ms Ardern.

Once that was in place it could be extended to other COVID-free countries like Fiji.

“We are still undertaking the foundational work for the trans-Tasman travel arrangements but obviously that is still going to be some time off.”

The draft arrangement also requires assurances about each countries’ borders to ensure they have the same rigour of the air borders, said Ms Ardern.

Ardern said it had taken “considerable work” to get to this point.

The Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce said the country risked losing many young people to New Zealand if a safe travel corridor was not opened soon.

Chamber president Fletcher Melvin said tourism accounted for 85 per cent of the Cook Islands GDP last year, an industry that had evaporated with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Melvin said if a travel bubble didn’t open soon, young people would look to New Zealand for their future.

New Zealanders may be heading to the Cook Islands by Christmas.Source:Supplied

“We’re going to have a lot of school leavers coming out of school that won’t have employment opportunities and that’s going to put a lot of stress on the system.

“That’s one of the key areas that we are worried about, about losing our youth when the borders open,” he said.

Meanwhile, ACT New Zealand leader David Seymour said the holdup with the Cook Islands travel bubble showed Labour “isn’t fit to govern”.

“There’s no community transmission in New Zealand or the Cooks, but the PM still isn’t able to announce a travel bubble,” he said.

“Either New Zealand still has the world’s dumbest borders or Labour is politicising the situation.

“If the Government can’t establish a travel bubble between two COVID-free parts of New Zealand, what can it do? The growing number of blunders at the border show Labour couldn’t run a bath.”

This article originally appeared on the NZ Herald and was reproduced with permission

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