Mixed feelings among Cook Islanders after bubble announcement

By Jessica Tyson

The countdown is on for whānau wanting to reconnect with loved ones in the Cook Islands, and also for those who are ready to leave these shores for a tropical holiday.

Travellers between New Zealand and the Cook Islands will be able to move between countries from May 17 without having to quarantine as part of the new travel bubble.

But Arorangi resident Mānia Clarke-Mamanu says there a mixed feeling among locals about the bubble.

“The tourist sector and the government is obviously jumping up in joy. It’s so needed and then you’ve got some locals as well. There’s a mixture of uncertainty and they fear, to be honest, that possibly [CovidD-19] could come over with the influx of passengers from Aotearoa to Rarotonga and then other locals that are like ‘actually we’re happy not to have a whole lot of traffic on the road and to have the beaches to ourselves.”

Clarke-Mamanu says New Zealand makes up over 60% of the tourism dollar in Rarotonga.

“So it’s a much-needed injection back into the economy and back into businesses.”

She says the health system in the Cook Islands is much more limited than in New Zealand.

"Having said that, they’re working at pace to get everything that they need ready, as much as can be done with resources training and methods and systems, so everyone knows what needs to happen should a Covid case appear here."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a huge amount of work has gone into ensuring the two-way bubble is safe and that the Cook Islands is set up and ready for it.

“The health and safety of the people of the Cook Islands has at all times been paramount. Vaccination, while not an answer on its own, will provide an added layer of protection once rolled out, and we continue to advance these plans alongside the Cook Islands,” Ardern says.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says his government has been working in close partnership with New Zealand.

“We are continuing to work through final details for the deployment of vaccines to the Cook Islands and expect to provide further details on the vaccine roll-out within the next week few weeks.”

As part of the bubble requirement, travellers will have to have been in either the Cook Islands or New Zealand for at least 14 days before travel. This means anyone wanting to travel between Australia and the Cook Islands would need to spend at least 14 days in New Zealand in the middle. From May 17 travellers in both directions will not have to enter managed quarantine facilities.

However, the start of the bubble is subject to a final set of criteria being met, including airline and airport preparedness, all necessary protocols and frameworks being in place, and final signoff from the New Zealand health director-general and the Cook Islands secretary of Te Marae Ora – Ministry of Health.