New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed a two-way travel bubble with the Cook Islands will open on 17 May.
The decision means the country’s flag carrier will now operate two to three return flights a week to Rarotonga using its 787-9 aircraft, before increasing to daily flights from July.
It comes after a one-way corridor opened in January, which allowed Cook Island residents to fly into New Zealand without quarantine but not the other way around.
However, PM Ardern argued that, in the event of an outbreak, she is likely to try and immediately repatriate citizens rather than asking them to stay put, as is the case with Kiwis in Australia.
“As in the case with Australia, the bubble comes with a flyer beware caveat,” she said. “If there is an outbreak in New Zealand, flights are likely to be paused. In addition to that, a plan if there is an outbreak in the Cooks is more explicit.
“So rather than require everyone to shelter in place as we would in Australia, we would be more likely to get our people home. We view this as necessary to reduce pressure on the Cook Islands and minimise further spread of the virus.”
The similar “flyer beware” arrangement with Australia means the country can pause, suspend or continue flights in the event of an outbreak, as has happened twice in WA.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said the Cook Islands hold “a very special place for New Zealanders and Air New Zealand”.
“We know it’s a popular destination because in 2019, of the 446,000 Kiwis who took a trip to the Pacific islands, almost 110,000 headed to Rarotonga,” added Foran.
“We’re certain our Cook Island neighbours will welcome Kiwis with open arms for a much-needed boost for the local economy, and we’re looking forward to reconnecting friends and whānau who haven’t been able to take advantage of the one-way travel arrangement that’s been in place since January.”
Customers will only be able to visit if they have been in New Zealand for the past 14 days.
Scott Tasker, Auckland Airport’s general manager of aeronautical commercial, said, “Auckland Airport has been operating a fully separated international terminal for two weeks now, and it will be fantastic to welcome back more green international travellers to its dedicated safe travel zone.
“Opening up two-way quarantine-free travel will not only be a much-needed boost to the Cook Islands economy, particularly ahead of the winter months but gives the tens of thousands of Cook Islanders living in New Zealand an opportunity to travel to the islands again.”
The news comes after New Zealand again paused its bubble to WA, following a second COVID outbreak in as many weeks. The latest case stems from a hotel quarantine security guard in his twenties who was potentially infectious in the community for four days.