fbpx

Far-Reaching Impact of Cooks Quarantine-Free Travel

GetResponse Pro

Foreign Affairs

Hundreds more Cook Islanders are expected to begin criss-crossing the Pacific, Air NZ will triple the number of flights to Rarotonga next week, and about 300 managed isolation places will be freed up for Kiwis returning from other parts of the world.

When Thomas Tarurongo Wynne took a job in Wellington at the start of last year, he and wife Juanita steeled themselves for a long distance relationship in which they saw each other only once every month or two.

But as for so many other families, 2020 proved worse than they could have imagined. When Covid-19 closed down the borders, they found themselves parted for the entire year – Thomas in New Zealand, Juanita at home in Cook Islands.

Thomas was finally able to return to Rarotonga and his family in time for Christmas; over the past few weeks, he and Juanita agreed they couldn’t spend another year apart. They booked flights for this coming week: they would travel together to New Zealand and she too would seek a work transfer to Wellington.


Far-Reaching Impact of Cooks Quarantine-Free TravelShould Cook Islanders be allowed to open their borders to NZ tourists if they feel they have adequate precautions in place, or is it New Zealand’s duty to protect them by blockading entry? Click here to comment.


It wasn’t viable to travel more often. The air tickets are twice as much as they were before Covid, they would have to spend two weeks in a managed isolation hotel every time they entered New Zealand, and they would pay $3,100 a pop for that privilege – even though they were coming from the Covid-free paradise of Cook Islands.

That’s travel in the pandemic. It’s complex, it’s prohibitively expensive, and sometimes it’s just not possible at all.

So yesterday’s announcement from Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Mark Brown was very welcome – especially coming on Juanita and Thomas’ fifth wedding anniversary. Last night they went out for dinner to celebrate their anniversary and the good news, at the famous Trader Jack’s seafront restaurant.

Far-Reaching Impact of Cooks Quarantine-Free Travel
Juanita and Thomas Tarurongo Wynne had more than their fifth wedding anniversary to celebrate at Trader Jack’s in Rarotonga last night – they were also celebrating the news they and other Cook Islanders would be allowed to fly to New Zealand next week without spending two weeks in managed isolation at a cost of thousands of dollars. Photo: Supplied

A year ago, Trader Jack’s would have been packed to the gunwales with locals and tourists; last night, they were the only group in the restaurant. That, too, is the impact of the pandemic on tourism and travel. Cook Islands was reliant on tourism for 80 percent of its GDP; the Covid-19 border closures have almost entirely shut down the economy of the whole nation.

That’s why the Cook Islands business sector is hoping that the announcement of quarantine-free travel for Cook Islanders and Cook Islands residents will be a successful experiment; if it goes well, the plan is to open up to Kiwis as well by the end of March.

But for now, it’s just Cook Islanders and Kiwi expats in the Cooks.

“This move will enable Cook Islands residents to access long delayed health services in New  Zealand, to enrol or re-enrol at schools and universities to visit anau members for the first time in nearly a year without having to quarantine on arrival.”
– Prime Minister Mark Brown

New Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said: “This move will enable Cook Islands residents to access long delayed health services in New  Zealand, to enrol or re-enrol at schools and universities to visit anau members for the first time in nearly a year without having to quarantine on arrival.”

Air New Zealand has been flying just one flight a week in and out of Rarotonga; a minimum agreed as a condition of its bailout loan from the New Zealand Government. They have carried more cargo than passengers for the past nine months – there are typically about 20 passengers on the RAR-AKL flight arriving in New Zealand on Saturdays.

But this coming week, they plan to bring in three planes, one returning to Auckland on Thursday, and two on Sunday. The airline said passengers who were booked on this week’s flight, arriving in Auckland on today, would be offered the chance to rebook for next week, when the quarantine-free travel comes into effect.

“MIQ will email people who have vouchers for managed isolation but will arrive after quarantine-free travel commences to advise them they are no longer required to go into managed isolation and that we have cancelled their voucher. These vouchers will then be able to be used by other people wanting to come to New Zealand.”
– Managed Isolation and Quarantine

Thomas Wynne anticipated there would be hundreds of people flying to Auckland next week, who had delayed health and education and family visits because of the managed isolation requirements.

With the exception of a few diplomats and critical health workers, they will be the first people allowed into New Zealand in nine months without going through managed isolation. But they will still be subject to strict conditions, and random temperature checks.

A Managed Isolation and Quarantine spokesperson said they would be able to release about 300 vouchers back into the Managed Isolation Allocation System, which would have been used by passengers from the Cook Islands, like Thomas and Juanita, who are currently booked into managed isolation between now and March 31.

“There is one flight a week from Rarotonga/Cook Islands to Auckland, arriving on a Saturday, and on average there have been 20 passengers per week from the Cook Islands going into managed isolation facilities,” the spokesperson said.

“MIQ will email people who have vouchers for managed isolation but will arrive after quarantine-free travel commences to advise them they are no longer required to go into managed isolation and that we have cancelled their voucher. These vouchers will then be able to be used by other people wanting to come to New Zealand.”

“We may find that tourists, when they do return, spend more time in their resort than out in the community. It will be different from what they expect. But I think for most Kiwis, just getting out of New Zealand and sitting at the Edgewater Resort by the beach will be good enough for them!”
– Thomas Tarurongo Wynne

The next few weeks of quarantine-free travel for Cook Islanders enables the two governments to test aspects of the new travel regime: Air NZ will only send “clean” planes and crew, who have not travelled anywhere with Covid. And Auckland Airport will create a three hour window for the arriving Rarotonga flights, in which no other international flights arrive, in order to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

If this trial is successful, New Zealanders could be extended the same quarantine-free travel from the end of March, allowing the cash-strapped Cook Islands to reboot its stagnant economy – but Kiwi tourists shouldn’t assume they will be welcomed unconditionally.

Although the Rarotonga business sector is keen to see tourism resume, many residents and traditional leaders are more dubious. Residents of the resort island of Aitutaki have indicated they want to stay closed, and Tinomana Ariki, one of Rarotonga’s paramount chiefs, called a community meeting last night in which she expressed her concerns.

“Hoteliers are definitely going to be falling over themselves to have tourists here again,” Thomas Wynne said. “But there will be an element of caution on behalf of Cook Islands residents. They will be a bit more reserved.

“When I arrived here, I felt it. People were happy to give me a fist pump, but not happy to give me a hug or a kiss. Things won’t be the same as they were – nothing is the same.

“And we may find that tourists, when they do return, spend more time in their resort than out in the community. It will be different from what they expect. But I think for most Kiwis, just getting out of New Zealand and sitting at the Edgewater Resort by the beach will be good enough for them!”

Far-Reaching Impact of Cooks Quarantine-Free Travel

Source link