New Zealand expects to open a two-way travel bubble with the Cook Islands in May and is planning a vaccination campaign there.
The leaders of both nations met in Auckland today, with New Zealand confirming $20 million in additional support for the country this financial year.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown is the first international leader to be officially welcomed into New Zealand since the pandemic began.
Speaking to media after the meeting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the two discussed the road map for quarantine-free travel.
She said the vaccination campaign – also planned to begin in May – will pave the way.
“There has been significant work with preparedness and we are currently working in earnest towards a May commencement. The Director-General of Health has also advised that beginning vaccination will add to the safe opening of quarantine-free travel.”
Brown has said the Cook Islands’ updated contact tracing app, which is compatible with the New Zealand Covid Tracer app, is also an essential step on the path to two-way quarantine-free travel.
In the meantime, New Zealand is offering the $20 million sweetener from a “recently reprioritised” Development Assistant budget.
A one-way travel bubble between Rarotonga and New Zealand has been in place since the end of January allowing quarantine-free travel from the Cook Islands to New Zealand.
At least 300 Cook Islanders have arrived in New Zealand to look for work since the one-way travel arrangement came into effect and residents are also travelling to New Zealand for medical treatments they can’t access at home.
There is pressure for officials to move faster on a two-way travel bubble, or risk losing a significant chunk of the Cook Islands workforce to New Zealand.
Brown told Ardern about the “significant issues” facing his covid-free, but also tourist-free, country.
“For a country that is totally reliant on tourism – up to 70 percent on GDP – this has had a significant impact on our economy, to the state it’s declined 20 percent in the time New Zealand’s economy has declined by 2.9 percent of its GDP,” he said.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.