Cook Islands Covid legislation targeting misinformation extended


The Covid-19 Amendment Act, designed to protect the country against the virus through border restrictions and combatting misinformation, was extended for another six months during Cook Islands Parliament last week.

Addressing the Bill to extend the Act, Prime Minister Mark Brown said it was necessary because the “deadly virus is still swarming around the world”.

Brown referred to the Cook Islands “close neighbour” Fiji, which is currently in the midst of a wave, recording an average of 269 new cases per day.

The Prime Minister also reminded Cook Islanders of the powers the Act gives to the Secretary of Health, Bob Williams.

“Usually only during times of national risk and national security, we will confer such strong powers.

“In this Bill there is authority and powers to detain and quarantine people. And if need be, hold people against their will.

“Of course when this Bill was first enacted last year in the emergence of the Covid, we knew we had to put in place powers to enable action to be taken at times over the personal freedoms of people.”

Brown said that is why the extension of the Act is only for six months.

“As the state emergency declines, the need for these drastic measures declines, then the need (for the Act) is no longer required,” he said.

The leader of the Democratic Party, Tina Browne, said the Opposition fully supported the extension of the Act.

The Act is being extended until January 2022.

The Prime Minister said the country will be in a better position to review the Act in January.

“We look forward to the day when we no longer need this legislation,” he said.

Part of the powers in the Act restricts people from publishing or communicating harmful information in relation to Covid-19.

Earlier this month, Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt issued a warning after graffiti was found on the road next to the Rarotonga vaccination site which read “the vaccine killed my nena”.

Pitt said, “since there has been a reference made to the vaccine, police may look into whether there has been a breach of the Covid-19 Act.”

This week, Facebook also joined efforts to counter Covid-19 misinformation in the Cook Islands and the broader Pacific region.

The campaign, which started yesterday, follows an earlier launch in Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
In a press release, Facebook said the campaign runs for five weeks and includes graphics and videos.

The company said the content is designed to encourage “three key behaviours by Facebook users”. The factors are awareness, investigation and action.

Facebook said they want people to be aware that false information exists, for people to research if the information they see is credible, and to visit local health authorities to get accurate information.

Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands said, “one of our commitments is to connect people to reliable information, and give people the tools to make informed decisions about the information they see on Facebook.

“We are extending our efforts to reach more people across the Pacific, ensuring they can easily compare what they see with official public health resources.”

In the press release, Facebook said they have worked closely with the World Health Organization to direct people to authoritative Covid-19 information.