5 Sep 2020

Repatriated Cook Islanders test negative for Covid-19

1:44 pm on 5 September 2020

All 66 people on today's Cook Islands repatriation flight from New Zealand have tested negative for Covid-19, the health ministry, Te Marae Ora, says.

Rarotonga Airport.

Rarotonga Airport. Photo: Airport Authority Cook Islands

Before the plane's departure, it was unclear how many of those booked on the flight would be allowed to board as not all of the passengers' test results had been returned.

However, a Te Marae Ora spokesperson said the results came back in time for everyone to catch the plane.

The flight went ahead amid great sadness over the death of the former Cook Islands Prime Minister, Joe Williams, who died in Auckland yesterday after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

The passengers were required to wear masks during the flight, which landed in Rarotonga at about 12.30pm.

Their carry on baggage was disinfected before the passengers entered the terminal and their checked luggage was also disinfected before being placed on the carousel in the arrivals hall.

Before exiting the plane, the returnees were briefed by the Secretary of Health, Dr Aumea Herman, on what is expected of them while in supervised quarantine.

They have already undergone two weeks of managed isolation in New Zealand.

On completion of arrival procedures the passengers will be transported to their pre-arranged and approved accommodation where they will be required to undergo strict quarantine for the next 14 days; during which they will undertake two Covid tests.

Only after the 14 days, without symptoms and being found to be free of the coronavirus will they be allowed back into the community.

Anyone who breaches the quarantine may be prosecuted and face a penalty of up to $NZ10,000 or imprisonment.

"We will be taking all the precautions we deem necessary to protect our people and keep our country COVID-19-free," Dr Herman said.

"Border agencies including police, immigration and health are working at pace to ensure the necessary processes are in place."

Vainetutai Rose Toki Brown

Vainetutai Rose Toki Brown Photo: RNZ Pacific / Florence Syme-Buchanan

The Minister of Health Rose Brown extended her gratitude to those who helped to bring the returnees home safely.

"Safe for them and safe for those of us already here," she said.

"We all have a part in making sure that we do the right thing. We must continue to practise our infection control and prevention measures that have been found to protect people from catching this disease.

"These include physical distancing, washing hands frequently, not touching your face, and practising cough and sneeze etiquette. We have kept Covid-19 at bay by being vigilant and we must continue to do so."

The repatriation flight has caused consternation in the Cook Islands community with the aronga mana, or traditional leaders of Vaka Puaikura district threatening to set up road blocks.

Cook Islands News reported the aronga mana were planning to block their boundary at Black Rock and Rutaki because of concerns about the self-quarantine plans.

Puaikura aronga mana chair Tere Taio said it was proposed that all passengers be quarantined in one monitored facility with their families providing meals.

However after a meeting between Dr Herman and Taio, in which she assured him of Te Marae Ora's master plan, the district's boundaries were left open.

Taio told Cook Islands News "we have asked to be kept in the loop because in our Vaka most of us didn't really understand or know what was happening today".

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