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If she was Prime Minister of New Zealand, National's Judith Collins would allow a travel bubble with the Cook Islands to happen this week.
Representatives from the Cook Islands' tourism sector are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the industry's preparations to host guests in the future. In anticipation of travel, the islands recently launched its Cook Islands Promise, “a joint commitment between hosts and guests to safeguard the health of our island communities and visitors”.
But when New Zealanders can visit the Cook Islands is still up-in-the-air with no official announcement yet.
Aotearoa currently has no community transmission of COVID-19 and the Cook Islands is also without the virus. That has Collins, the National Party leader, questioning why a bubble is not yet in place.
“If the Cook Islands or Samoa or any of those countries that have been able to get themselves COVID-19 free, if they want to be part of a travel bubble with us, then why aren't we doing it?” she told The AM Show.
“They really do need tourism and many New Zealanders would like to be able to go and travel there. You are going to a place with no COVID-19. Why wouldn't you do it? If they want to do it, why not respect their views.”
Asked if she would allow a travel bubble with the Cook Islands to happen as soon as possible - like this week - if she was Prime Minister, Collins said she was all for it.
“Yes, I would actually. I think it is unfair,” she said.
“We owe the Pacific an obligation to actually be good neighbours and this is one way we could do it.”
Appearing on The AM Show later on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters didn't say what was holding up the bubble, but said it won't open within the week.
“Two days before we even went into the lockdown, way back at the start of this year, we had foreign affairs begin to work on the trans-Tasman bubble and dare I say it, the bubble in the Pacific, on plans for when we came out,” he said.
“Here we are, way into the end of July virtually, and we still haven't got there. To tell you the truth, you are asking me and I would love to give you the answer, we are working on a number of aspects, but at the moment, I cannot say next week it will open.”
The AM Show's Duncan Garner asked what was needed before it could go ahead.
“That is a damn good question. Here we are. We have got Niue and the Cook Islands, realm countries, sealed off from the rest of the world. Maritime sealed off as well. We have got to actually up the game and give an answer, and much sooner rather than later,” Peters said.
“I am not going to stand here defending myself when I have done the best I can. When the decision on this for now finally is somewhere else.”
He said it was “not a decision [he was] making”.
“I made the decisions with respect to moving 150,000 people through this country and out of this country and back to this country. Foreign affairs put 404 people on that, 24/7, three shifts, and I think it was a marvellous job,” the minister said.
“This is a job as well, that I believe could be, if we focused on it, and had a commitment to start next week, it could be done, but we have got to get the tick off.”
Halatoa Fua, Cook Islands' Tourism chief executive, said discussions remained underway and believed an agreement could be reached within weeks.
“From my understanding, the border control and process components are currently being dealt [with] between the two governments. The officials have been continuing at pace for several weeks now, the discussions, and were formalising the process from the airport check-in in New Zealand all the way through to the Cook Islands.
“The border discussions are happening at the moment and we should have, in a matter of weeks, have some formal agreement in place.”
Earlier this month, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were practical issues that needed to be sorted before quarantine-free travel could occur.
“At the moment, our airports don't separate individuals who we might be certain are COVID-19 free from those who are not. We would need very strong physical barriers, different staff interacting with different groups. There are a number of practical things that need to be in place.”
Earlier this year, as New Zealand emerged from its lockdown, focus was on creating a trans-Tasman bubble with Australia. However, talk of that has died down recently, especially as Victoria faced a surge in COVID-19 cases.
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