15 Aug 2020

Covid-19: Cook Island community seeks guidance from New Zealand Government

1:49 pm on 15 August 2020

A community leader in the Cook Islands says they need more guidance from the New Zealand government on what to do in case of a Covid-19 outbreak.

Rarotonga airport

Rarotonga Airport. Photo: RNZI Walter Zweifel

The country has closed its border due to the latest outbreak of the virus in Auckland and Air New Zealand cancelled a flight to the Cook Islands which was due to leave Auckland this morning.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said the Cook Islands has so far had no cases of Covid-19, so the airline wanted to do the right thing for both countries in terms of safety and well-being.

The airline made the decision after consultation with the Ministry of Health.

It will still carry cargo with the return service bringing customers back to Auckland.

Cook Islands Private Sector Task Force head Fletcher Melvin said there was relief among the community that people were not allowed to travel.

"There was a lot of anxiety here yesterday, people were worried about the development in New Zealand and if people were able to still fly here so it's great the border has been closed," Melvin said.

"From a business point of view we want to establish a travel bubble but only if there is no community transmission in New Zealand, so the right decision has been made."

The Cook Islands have been cut off for so long without tourists that it was becoming somewhat normal, however it was not getting any easier, he said.

"We would like to see our government extend the wage subsidy for another month, that would ease a lot of anxiety, in saying that we are very grateful that we don't have to worry about the health implications of the virus only the economic ones."

Melvin said the Cook Islands felt prepared for an outbreak but community leaders would like to check all systems were working and ready.

"If we could be audited by New Zealand to see if our health system is up to scratch and our tracing systems are adequate, that would be helpful because we are running blind at the moment.

"We just want a seat at the table so we can have some more certainty with what is going on, this would improve business confidence."

Mervin said the country had a QR code but then another was introduced so there was confusion over which one to use.

"Businesses are trying to say let's just pick one and go with it but there seems to be no real commitment, we need better leadership and financing."

If the Cook Islands could do a dummy run that would help with confidence and allow the country a chance to pick up on any holes, he said.

The report of former prime minister Dr Joe Williams contracting the virus has hit close to home, Melvin said.

Dr Williams, 82, runs a medical practice in Auckland.

Cook Island News is reporting Dr Williams has been admitted to hospital due to Covid-19.

Melvin said he was very distinguished within the community and most people knew his family.

"We are all sending our well-wishes from the Cook Islands and we are really quiet saddened to hear he has been admitted to hospital."

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