New Zealand plans travel bubble with Cook Islands

The two countries hope to set up the virus-free corridor before the end of the year

New Zealand hopes to set up a travel bubble with the Cook Islands by the end of the year. Courtesy flickr / Gemma Longman
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New Zealand is set to open a travel bubble with the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not give a firm commitment to a date but said that the virus-free bubble could be in place before the end of the year. A draft agreement has already been drawn up detailing the requirements each country will need to meet for quarantine-free travel.

Both New Zealand and the Cook Islands have successfully contained the coronavirus. Only 22 deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded in New Zealand and the country has just marked 100 days since its last case of community transmission.

The Cook Islands has a population of just 10,000 and declared itself virus-free on April 16.

"Our expectation is that it would be in place before the end of the year," said Ardern, when speaking to reporters on Monday.

"The last thing anyone wants is to reopen travel, only to have it closed down again because it hasn't been done properly," she cautioned.

A similar arrangement for a trans-Tasman bubble with Australia has been paused after the country recorded a spike in coronavirus cases.

The Cook Islands promise

Aitutaki, part of the Cook Islands. Courtesy Cook Islands Tourism

The Cook Islands has announced details of a programme called the Cook Islands Promise, designed to keep visitors safe. The tiny archipelago nation relies heavily on tourism and it's estimated that about 60 per cent of pre-pandemic visitors came from New Zealand.

Flights from Auckland to Rarotonga, the largest of the 15 Cook Islands, take fewer than four hours.

Tourists arriving on the islands can voluntarily register for the CookSafe programme. They will then be given a QR card that can be scanned in participating public places to allow authorities to keep track of people's movements.

Residents exercise at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. New Zealand on Sunday marked 100 days since it stamped out the spread of the coronavirus, a rare bright spot in a world that continues to be ravaged by the disease. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

In New Zealand, travellers arriving from overseas are currently required to quarantine for at least 14 days in government appointed hotels and facilities. Elsewhere in the country, New Zealanders are enjoying a near-normal lifestyle again with no social distancing rules enforced.

A look back at the places that had no Covid-19 in May