Cook Islands implements new health rules ahead of border opening

Source: 1News

Mandatory face mask-wearing is among a raft of new health-related regulations announced in the Cook Islands, in a bid to keep communities safe ahead of its border reopening on January 14.

Lagoon in the Cook Islands

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown outlined the new rules which come into effect the same day the nation’s quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand begins.

New requirements include mandatory face mask-wearing in “certain situations” and on all public transport, proof of vaccination in high-risk facilities, or certain restrictions such as a 100-person limit, and one-metre physical distancing.

Certain businesses and services, as well as gatherings of more than 100 people, will also be required to have contact tracing systems in place, and businesses, services and government must appoint a Covid-19 health and safety officer. The new rules do not apply to children under 12 years of age.

Brown says the new requirements are “not a last-ditch defence against Covid-19”, but “basic added safeguards” that provide the nation with another layer of protection, “both for ourselves and most importantly for the more vulnerable among us".

The Cook Islands has one of the highest vaccination rates in the entire world, with more than 97 per cent of its eligible population having had at least two doses of the vaccine.

“In setting out a safe framework for how we will go about protecting Cook Islanders from Covid-19 once our border opens on January 13 (local time), the Response Plan identifies four main action areas, three of which are the requirements for entry to the Cook Islands, requirements on arrival in the Cook Islands, and requirements for travel to the Pa Enua.”

Brown says the key areas of concern will be managed via multiple layers of “protection protocols”, including stringent Covid testing, vaccination requirements, travel stand-downs, home isolation and managed quarantine.

In December, it was announced the two-way quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands would go ahead, despite the New Zealand Government delaying MIQ-free international travel to other countries until the end of February 2022 in a bid to keep Omicron out of the country.

There has also been some resistance against quarantine-free travel to the islands.

Earlier in December, a peaceful protest took place against the re-opening of the bubble.

The protest’s leader and Cook Island United Party founder Teariki Heather said quarantine-free travel wasn’t safe for residents.