Covid-19 reaches Cook Islands, one of the last uninfected places in the world

Passenger flights to the outer islands of the tropical archipelago are suspended after a traveller from New Zealand tested positive

The Cook Islands only recently opened its borders in January to allow travellers from New Zealand, provided they are fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19 before travel. Photo: Cook Islands Tourism
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One of the last remaining places in the world to have escaped the global pandemic has recorded its first official case of Covid-19.

The Cook Islands, a tropical archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, documented its first case of Covid-19 on Sunday after a traveller from New Zealand tested positive after arriving in Rarotonga, the largest of the nation's 15 islands.

It’s the first official documentation of Covid-19 in the Polynesian archipelago which was named the No 1 country to visit in 2022 by travel guidebook publishers Lonely Planet.

The woman is now isolating under observation at her private holiday accommodation along with the two other people she was travelling with.

She took a test after learning she was a close contact of a family member who tested positive for the virus in New Zealand on Saturday.

Despite being asymptomatic, the tourist tested positive for the virus a few hours later.

“It is helpful for us in this case that this person was staying in private holiday accommodation, not a resort or motel,” said Prime Minister Mark Brown in a televised address to the nation.

The infected woman tested negative for Covid-19 before boarding an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to the Cook Islands. Photo: flickr 

The woman had fulfilled all travel requirements necessary for flying to the Cook Islands, including obtaining a negative PCR test before boarding Air New Zealand flight NZ946 from Auckland to Rarotonga on February 10. She is also fully vaccinated.

The tourist will now remain with her fellow travellers in isolation until they no longer test positive for Covid-19, said Cook Island authorities on Sunday.

Locations in Rarotonga that she visited during her stay have been made public and include Trader Jacks bar and restaurant and a party bus bound for a nightclub called Rehab.

Anyone who is deemed to be a close contact with the woman should expect to be contacted by health authorities. Brown also advised anyone displaying Covid-19-like symptoms to get tested.

Passenger flights cancelled for a week

The Cook Islands is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It comprises 15 islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometers (92.7 sq mi). The Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), however, covers 1,800,000 square kilometers (690,000 sq mi) of ocean.

All passenger flights from Rarotonga, hub of the Cook Islands, are suspended for seven days.

Flights to Aitutaki, the second most-visited island in the archipelago, are suspended until Wednesday.

For the rest of the islands, passenger travel is suspended for a week from Monday. Outward travel from the islands to Rarotonga continues to be permitted.

“This case is not connected to the visitor who tested positive for Omicron after leaving Rarotonga and arriving back in New Zealand last Monday”, said Brown.

That traveller had spent eight days in the community and tested positive for Omicron upon returning home, leaving islanders bracing for community transmission.

The Cook Islands closed its borders in August last year after the first Covid-19 case was detected in New Zealand.

The archipelago opened its borders again in January this year, with authorities saying the border closure had “hit many people very hard and it has taken a toll, mentally and financially."

Only travellers who are coming from New Zealand, are fully vaccinated and have a negative PCR test are allowed to visit the tropical archipelago.

Until Sunday, the island nation had recorded zero cases of Covid-19.

Updated: February 14, 2022, 1:14 PM
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