First flight takes off marking start of Cook Islands travel bubble

A scene from Aituaki in the Cook Islands.
A view from Aituaki in the Cook Islands.
As the country enters the chilly winter months, New Zealanders can now travel to the Cook Islands as the first quarantine-free flight to the Pacific nation takes off this morning.

This comes just four months since a one-way travel bubble was opened, allowing Cook Islanders quarantine-free travel to New Zealand.

The first flight to Rarotonga will touch down today, and there will be daily flights between the two countries after that.

An Air New Zealand spokesperson confirmed today's only flight will depart from Auckland at 8.55am and is fully booked. With jet setters expected to touch down at Rarotonga Airport at 2.30pm local time.

The next available flight is on Saturday which departs from Auckland at 2.30pm.

Anyone who has been in New Zealand for a consecutive 14 days before departure is eligible to travel to the Cook Islands.

The quarantine-free flights will bring a sigh of relief to Cook Island tourism operators.

Graeme West, General Manager of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation for Australasia, said today's flight between the two counties is the best thing that has happened in 14 months.

"The response has been fantastic and we hope it continues. New Zealanders comprise two-thirds of all visitors to the Cook Islands, so from today, we're overjoyed and relieved to be back in business," West said.

Although there are quarantine-free flights to the country, the Cook Islands maritime border remains closed.

Before travellers set foot on the plane, they can't be waiting for a Covid-19 test result or have tested positive in the last 14-days. However, they do not have to have a pre-departure test before flying.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Cook Islands bubble was another step in the recovery process, offering the chance for families to reconnect, help businesses and give some a "well-earned break".

Regarding the Cook Islands bubble, if there was a Covid case it would likely have originated from New Zealand. That was why it had been a cautious reopening as it would be New Zealand's responsibility to assist with any potential outbreak there.

That could lead to New Zealand bringing people back here to relieve pressure, Ardern said.

This would also apply to Cook Islanders themselves, as per New Zealand's current arrangements and "expectations" to provide urgent care when required, she said.

Once the flight touches down, travellers are then able to travel to the other islands without self-isolation. While in the Cook Island's, New Zealanders are being asked to download and register for their unique CookSafe QR Card, which is a physical card used to scan in to locations.

It is one of the few countries in the Pacific, including Tonga, Samoa and Niue, that have been and remain completely free of the virus in the community.

In May, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown visited New Zealand where he and Ardern announced the two-way bubble.

Today also marks the start of the Cook Islands vaccination roll-out. Over the past few months, the Cook Island Government has been working alongside the New Zealand Ministry of Health to develop a roll-out programme for the Pacific nation.

"All residents in the Cook Islands over the age of 16 years are eligible for vaccination. No one will miss out," Brown said.

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