Quarantine-free Cook Islands travel to remain, despite Omicron outbreak

By Will Trafford

The quarantine-free travel bubble with the Cook Islands will remain open despite New Zealand's Covid-19 Omicron outbreak.

The Cook Islands cabinet met yesterday after being notified two arrivals from Aotearoa had visited Covid-19 locations of interest before their departure. While opting to keep the bubble open, the government says a range of control measures similar to New Zealand's red traffic light setting will be introduced to reduce the risk to the region's 17,459 residents.

Mask mandates have been instituted in all public indoor settings including retail and hospitality workplaces and churches, with all gatherings limited to a maximum of 100 people regardless of vaccination status.

From today rapid antigen testing (RAT) will also be required for all travellers to Aitutaki from Rarotonga and, for the next month, no unvaccinated people will be allowed into the Cook Islands unless granted an exemption for being a resident or a parent or caregiver of a child under five.

Any arrivals identified as close contacts will also be required to quarantine in the islands, with the couple most recently identified by the Ministry of Health having so far tested negative.

"The couple tested negative on Saturday and are quarantined with Day 5 and Day 9 tests to follow. Only when they have tested negative for both remaining tests will they no longer be quarantined," the government said in a statement.

Quarantine-free travel from New Zealand to the Cook Islands began on January 14, with local tourist operators saying they are seeing a steady increase in bookings.

The Cook islands have among the highest vaccination rates in the world with 99.6 percent of the population (12,971 people) having had their first dose; officials say high vaccination rates are crucial given the limited healthcare infrastructure on the islands.

No cases of Covid-19 have been detected in the Cook Islands.