The first repatriation flights of Cook Islanders stranded in New Zealand as a result of the current Covid-19 community outbreak will begin tonight.
The first chartered flight will depart from Christchurch at 9pm tonight with 90 passengers onboard.
The Cook Islands Government has laid out strict protocols for the arrival of the repatriated passengers who'll land at Rarotonga Airport at 2.30 tomorrow morning local time (1.30am NZ time)
While 90 passengers are booked to fly, the final number who travel won't be confirmed until all Covid 19 tests have been received.
Passengers will have medical checks at Christchurch Airport before boarding and on arrival in Rarotonga health officials and police will brief them before they're taken to MIQ for seven days at the Edgewater Hotel.
All front-line staff meeting the flight will be tested for Covid when they finish work before self-isolating until they receive a negative result.
The Cook Islands Deputy High Commissioner to New Zealand, Piakura Passfield, said initially over 360 people (368) signed up for repatriation but the numbers have been fluctuating due to eligibility and people withdrawing their interest.
"I am aware...that a few people at the last minute said that they would prefer to stay here and wait until the borders opened or that they would prefer to stay here and work, as we had some seasonal workers on the flight," she said.
A second repatriation flight from Auckland is scheduled to depart next Friday.