Cook Islands open up to New Zealand

·2-min read

With one of the best COVID-19 vaccinations rates in the world, the Cook Islands has reopened its border to New Zealand.

The semi-autonomous Pacific nation reports 99.6 per cent of its eligible citizens - or all but about 50 people - have received at least one vaccine dose.

With 98 per cent fully vaccinated, and 70 per cent with a booster shot, the tourism-dependent country is accepting flights of vaccinated Kiwis.

"It's a huge relief all round and people are looking forward with much excitement to welcoming Kiwis back to our beautiful islands," Cook Islands Tourism Corporation manager Graeme West said.

The Cooks, which govern in "free association" with NZ according to a 2001 agreement, is the only place Kiwis can travel to without quarantining or isolating on at least one end of their trip.

Still, tourists are yet to flood in, with Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott saying hotels were about 30-40 per cent capacity.

"There's a lot of nervousness ... a little bit of fear," Ms Scott told Radio NZ.

"There's worry that we're opening to very low occupancy."

Air New Zealand is running one daily return flight to Rarotonga.

COVID-19 remains under control in NZ, which is now picking up more cases at the border than in the community.

On Friday, NZ health officials confirmed a fresh 43 cases in quarantine, and 18 new community cases.

The new numbers lift the seven-day average for border cases (31) above those found in the community (26) for the first time in the Delta outbreak.

Most of the border cases are of the Omicron variant: officials have reported 266 Omicron cases since December 1, far outweighing the Delta arrivals.

Friday's cases were found in Auckland (11), the Waikato (four), Christchurch (two) and Bay of Plenty (one).

Hospitalisations are unchanged at 34, with two in intensive care.

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