Prime minister Jacinda Ardern says a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands could be in place by the end of the year, with an update on timing expected within the next two weeks.
Speaking to media Monday, Ardern said the Government was considering a draft text that was being worked on by officials that would become the basis of an agreement for travel between the two nations.
Ardern and the prime minister of the Cook Islands, Henry Puna, were close to agreeing the Arrangement to Facilitate Quarantine-Free Travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand, which would represent the first phase of establishing a travel bubble.
“Whilst we haven’t put a timeframe around reopening at this stage, our expectation is that it would be in place before the end of the year,” Ardern said.
“With that draft text almost agreed, it means we now have agreement over who would be eligible and how it would operationally work, but now we just need to assure ourselves of the measures on the ground.
“The last thing anyone wants is to reopen travel only to have it closed down because it hasn’t been done properly.”
The next phase would see officials in both New Zealand and the Cook Islands undertake work on the ground to assure expectations were being met. That verification work would take place within the next 10 days and the integrity of the maritime and aviation borders would be a significant part of that.
Ardern said a potential bubble would mean quarantine would not be required but health checks and declarations at the border would be needed as part of an additional layer of assurance.
“The whole point of establishing this regime is the assurance that both the Cook Islands and New Zealand is considered to be Covid-free, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have extra stages of assurance.”
Anyone with a New Zealand passport would be eligible for entry into the Cook Islands, but beyond that would be a matter of meeting Cook Islands visa requirements.
“The percentage of New Zealanders that make up the tourism industry in Cook Islands is 60%. But of course in this environment, it’s very hard to assess the differences in people’s travel habits we might see as a result of Covid.”
Prime minister Puna said the elimination by New Zealand of community transmission of Covid-19 had enabled some travel from New Zealand since 19 June for Cook Islands residents who met health and border entry requirements.
“Since the 19 June, we’ve continued to strengthen our border and health capabilities including stress testing,” Puna said.
“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 commence quarantine free travel between ourselves as soon as it can be safely achieved.”
Ardern added that New Zealand was waiting on Niue to be ready for a travel bubble but arrangements for a trans-Tasman bubble were “some time off”.
However, the trans-Tasman bubble arrangements that the Government was working to created a framework that could be used for other countries albeit quarantine free travel with other countries was not a reality at this stage.