The PM announces a relaxation of border controls – but only Cook Islanders will be able to benefit

Our kindly PM registered her return to work as leader of the nation with yet another statement on the Beehive website, the second in two days (following her appointment of Anna Curzon to the APEC Business Advisory Council on Wednesday).

It’s great to know we don’t have to check with Twitter to learn what her government is doing and/or what she thinks about the big issues of the day.

More fascinating, her press statement – at first blush – seemed to conflict with an announcement on Tuesday from COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

This advised us that the Government is putting in place a new set of measures to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants.

Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that most global air routes will be of critical concern for the foreseeable future, and we must respond strongly to the evolving situation,” said Chris Hipkins.

“New Zealand is currently in a very fortunate position with no community cases – let alone of new variant types – but we take nothing for granted.

“That’s why we continue to take action, with very specific steps to further strengthen our response at the air border.”

He proceeded to announce that passengers from overseas destinations would  be required to undergo Day 0/1 testing upon arrival in New Zealand.

“This expands on measures already in place for passengers from the UK and US.

“It will be progressively introduced at Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities over three days, starting from Monday 18 January. Routine Day 3 and Day 12 tests will continue.”

Australia, Antarctica and some Pacific Island nations were exempted from this edict.

And yesterday Ardern announced she and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown have decided passengers from the Cook Islands can resume quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from 21 January, enabling access to essential services such as health.

But this doesn’t mean Kiwis can pack their bags for a holiday in the sun in Rarotonga.

“Following confirmation of the Cook Islands’ COVID free status, and the implementation of strict health and border protocols we are now in the position to resume quarantine-free travel for passengers from the Cook Islands into New Zealand,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said Cook Islanders looked forward to quarantine-free entry to New Zealand to enable access to essential services, in the lead up to resuming free movement of people in both directions.

“I welcome the support of and joint effort with the New Zealand Government to institute this safe travel corridor which will enable essential health, education, economic and social connections for the first time in many months for our people.”

The announcement does not change the criteria for entry into the Cook Islands which is limited to Cook Islanders and current holders of Cook Islands work and residence permits who meet Cook Islands health entry requirements.

“These arrangements do not apply to New Zealanders wishing to travel to the Cook Islands. We said we would take a phased approach to resuming two-way travel and will do so only once all safety protocols can be met,” Jacinda Ardern said.

To be eligible to enter New Zealand, people in the Cook Islands must meet particular conditions, including:

  • not having been overseas outside of the Cook Islands or New Zealand in the past 14 days;
  • not having had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case within the past 14 days;
  • having maintained physical distancing (to the greatest extent practicable) from any person, at the airport at which they arrive, who did not arrive from the Cook Islands;
  • having worn a face covering while in the airport at which they arrived in New Zealand; and
  • there are no reasonable grounds (as determined by a suitably qualified health practitioner) to suspect that the person may have COVID-19. That might include, among other things:
    • having had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case within the past 14 days;
    • having any COVID-19 symptoms; and
    • be awaiting a COVID-19 test result

New Zealand public health officials will be undertaking random temperature checks of passengers on all flights arriving from the Cook Islands into New Zealand.

Auckland Airport will use a streamlined Safe Travel Path to process passengers arriving quarantine-free from the Cook Islands.  This entails separation from other arriving passengers by giving Cook Islands flights exclusive use of the international terminal for arrivals processing – with no other arriving flights within 90 minutes either side of the scheduled arrival time.

Before returning to the Cook Islands passengers will need to undertake a COVID-19 test within 96 hours of their flight departing, which must be negative and complete the exit health clearance process at Auckland International Airport.

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