Tiny COVID-free nation’s big move

The small Pacific nation of Cook Islands has begun its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on the same day it welcomed its first visitors since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday morning, New Zealand opened a second travel bubble with quarantine-free travel to the Cook Islands and saw its first tourists touch down for the first time in 14 months.

Remarkably, the Cook Islands is one of just 14 countries in the world that has managed to keep COVID-19 out.

Nine of those 14 countries that have been and remain completely free of the virus in the community lay in the Pacific, including Tonga, Samoa and Niue.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown was among those “applauding” as Air New Zealand flight NZ940 touched down in its capital, Rarotonga, from Auckland, “beaming from ear to ear”, according to Stuff.

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The Cook Islands. Picture: Cook Island TourismSource:Supplied

The first doses of the of the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine, which were also aboard the flight, will be on offer to MPs, essential workers and then people who work in the tourism industry to start.

Health officials in the country say 600 jabs will be administered per day and predict the whole of Rarotonga — the largest of the Cook Islands — should be vaccinated in less than one week.

Its government says the entire population — 17,000 — should be fully vaccinated within the next 80 days.

“This is probably the busiest week for Rarotonga, with the visitors and with the rollout of our vaccination,” Mr Brown said.

“As I have said before, the hard work is not over.

“It will take time for our tourism industry to fully restart itself again after 14 months in hibernation, and we will all have to readjust to what is yet another new normal in this time of COVID-19.

“Even now, as we set out on our road to economic recovery, we must also continue to be mindful of the fact that COVID-19 is still out there, beyond our borders.”

This morning we celebrated @AirNZ's first flight to Rarotonga in the new ‘travel bubble’! 🏝️ @AirNZ treated their departing passengers to a special performance of traditional @CookIslands dancing and drumming, along with tropical treats 😍 pic.twitter.com/dWNv0qNtLS

Cook Islands Health Secretary Bob Williams was the first to receive the jab in a Rarotonga Hospital just three hours after the arrival of doses, followed by the head of hospital health services Dr Yin Yin May.

“That’s a vaccination of the whole of the population and that’s certainly going to give that extra layer of protection, which I think offers a bit more assurance with an open border,” president of the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, Liana Scott, told the NZ Herald.

Hotel owner Tata Crocombe told the ABC that Rarotonga is “abuzz”.

“It’s wonderful that the New Zealand and Cook Islands government have got the program to vaccinate the entire Cook Islands population over the next three months with the Pfizer vaccine,” Mr Crocombe said.

#Watch: Quarantine-free travel between NZ & the Cook Islands has begun! And it's a high of about 26C in Rarotonga today… @nmtruebridge, @JamieTahana & Nate McKinnon are going to check it out. pic.twitter.com/1RfrHK1Hqd

New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern announced the quarantine free travel-bubble earlier this month, claiming that the start date for the bubble comes at a time where her country is in “a stronger position to prevent, detect and manage any potential COVID-19 outbreak”.

From 17 May, you can travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands without having to go into managed isolation or self-isolation when you arrive. This is called quarantine-free travel.

“A green travel zone between the Cooks and New Zealand will allow families to reconnect, commercial arrangements to resume, and tourism in the Cooks to kick off once again. This will all provide a boost to the Cook Island’s economy and help in the country’s recovery from the impacts of COVID-19,” she said.

The island’s tourism body hopes to extend the bubble to Australia, but while we patiently wait for the next corridor to launch, all eyes are on whether we can use New Zealand’s arrangement as a gateway of sorts.

Currently, Australians will need to spend at least 14 days in New Zealand first.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Picture: Phil WalterSource:Getty Images

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