By Lisa Williams for the Cook Island News
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet are to decide tomorrow whether to accede to a Cook Islands supervised quarantine centre in Auckland.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna announced the plans, and invited Cook Islanders to make their way there - but without New Zealand's sign-off.
The quarantine centre is planned to open tomorrow in the Holiday Inn in Mangere, near Auckland International Airport.
It is understood Puna's comments in a live address to the nation on Thursday caused concern for New Zealand authorities and Cook Islands residents in New Zealand.
The Cook Islands government has been advised that its advice is at odds with the emergency lockdown restrictions in New Zealand, which restrict people's movements.
Puna's direction that "travel within New Zealand and Auckland to and from the accommodation will be the individual's responsibility" contradicts the New Zealand government's emergency laws.
New Zealand residents are prohibited from moving around, except for short trips to their local supermarket and for exercise. Police are visible on the streets and breaches can be punished by fines or prison sentences.
The New Zealand Cabinet will decide whether the rules should be changed to allow Cook Islanders living under a one-month lockdown to legally move into provided accommodation.
The supervised Holiday Inn accommodation is part of a new protocol to help ensure the Covid-19 virus is not brought with returning Cook Islanders.
The Cabinet decision will help clear the air for hundreds of confused Cook Islands residents under the impression they will be heading home next week after finishing up 14-days of self-managed isolation.
Thomas Tarurongo Wynne, who has been working to help the returning Cook Islanders in Auckland, said they did not want to take the virus home to Rarotonga, and were hurt at comments that they were flouting the lockdown rules.
"They are afraid because the virus is real, it is here and climbing every day, and for that reason there is a greater reality of self-isolation, because their lives and the lives of those in their hostels, hotels and houses are counting on them doing the right thing.
"Nonetheless they are resilient and connected to each other the best way they know how. Can I assure the people at home, that they are doing all they can to stay within the requirements of the Level 4 alert lockdown, not just to get home, but more to simply stay alive.
"That is the stark reality for the 140 Cook Islands people caught here in New Zealand, for us here it is life or death."
Meanwhile as New Zealand citizens, they are being advised to "keep following the rules, and keep safe," by New Zealand-based doctor Teariki Maoate.
Maoate told Cook Islands News the decision for a supervised isolation rather than self-enforced would help deal with the issues around capturing any rule-breakers.
"When it comes to self-isolating, you can say 50, 60 or 70 percent of people will follow all the rules, and the rest can't be trusted," he said.
The new protocols would help capture a higher level of trust, he said.
Henry Puna has announced the New Zealand-based Pasifika Medical Association, chaired by Maoate, is partnering with Te Marae Ora to roll out a new 14-day isolation protocol for Cook Islanders returning home.
But exactly how the 'supervised quarantine protocol' Puna referred to will link to current New Zealand health and lockdown measures is yet to be seen.
More than 200 Cook Islanders who have self-isolated as part of the New Zealand arrival, or before flying to Rarotonga, or both, have registered in the last few days with the High Commission.
Many, like the 38 Golden Oldies delegates hoping to fly home in April from their 14 days isolation at the Atiu Hall, are happy to accept food, bedding and medical support but refuse to risk police arrest by heading into the prepaid hotel.
Puna has urged Cook Islanders to get behind the process, and check on the official government Covid-19 pages for more details.
High Commissioner Elizabeth Wright-Koteka confirmed yesterday the office was gathering names and passing on information to Te Marae Ora.
The Holiday Inn in Mangere confirmed that rooms would be available, with all accommodation and meals to be billed to the booking client, the Pasifika Medical Association.
But with logistics, details and the way forward now depending on Cabinet decisions in New Zealand and Cook Islands, Maoate said the main thing was for people to keep calm and follow the rules while waiting for next steps.
- additional reporting Katrina Tanirau