A short time ago, Prime Minister Mark Brown addressed the nation. Here is his address:
Kia orana tatou katoatoa,
During this week we have been having discussions about our COVID-19 isolation and quarantine protocols and how we need to change them to adapt to our changing situation, especially here on Rarotonga.
Firstly, we will be introducing the Essential Worker Pass, which will allow people who are negative but in quarantine as household contacts of positive COVID cases to be able to go to work or to feed and tend their animals, providing certain conditions are met.
With 517 active cases currently in isolation and 733 associated household contacts in quarantine as of 8am this morning – that’s a total of 1250 people – the Essential Worker Pass will allow public servants and those in the private sector to continue to go to work as long as they are asymptomatic and test negative each day before they leave quarantine.
Should you be in a household where someone else has tested positive and is under isolation, you or your employer will be able to apply to TMO for an Essential Worker Pass.
The pass allows you to travel between your work and residence only – it does not permit you to go anywhere else. Should you test positive for COVID-19 the pass will immediately be rescinded and you will enter seven-day isolation as per standard TMO protocol.
More information on the Essential Worker Pass and online application forms will be available on the TMO website from next week.
The second type of pass we will be issuing is the Green Freedom Pass, for people who have recovered from COVID-19 and are therefore no longer considered infectious.
So far we have had 740 people recover from COVID-19. These people no longer need to be tested for COVID and are unlikely to be reinfected due to our high vaccination rate.
Holders of a Green Freedom Pass are not required to quarantine even if their household goes into isolation from other members – which I guess is one positive thing from having had COVID, your immunity means you don’t need to quarantine or be tested anymore.
This pass will be especially important with regard to the resumption of contact sport.
From April 1, contact sport will be reinstated on the proviso that participants return a negative RAT result on the day they are playing, with testing to be coordinated by the various sports clubs involved.
RAT tests will be made available by TMO at a cost of $5 per test, purchased and administered by the relevant sporting bodies. As already stated, holders of Green Freedom Passes are not required to be tested.
With regard to the reinstatement of contact sport at schools and the resumption of school sports tournaments and events, discussions are still ongoing with the Ministry of Education and a final decision will be made at a later date. Also on April 1, we will be putting our CookSafe QR card contact tracing system into hibernation and will no longer require people to tag in at businesses and other organisations, or for these organisations to continue to have CookSafe card scanners in place.
While CookSafe and the CookSafe+ bluetooth app were essential for planning our response to earlier COVID variants where elimination was the objective, they are not as useful in responding to our current Omicron case numbers, where the new objective is now to manage the spread of infection and protect the vulnerable.
So the CookSafe card was an essential tool that we needed at the time, but now it’s time to put that tool back in the toolbox in the event that we need it again in the future.
Looking further ahead, to match New Zealand’s opening of its borders, we will be allowing visiting Australian passport holders to enter the Cook Islands from April 12 and all other travellers from May 1.
Visitors will still be required to be fully vaccinated before travelling here, unless they are under 16 years of age, which is also in line with current New Zealand requirements.
A negative COVID-19 test – either RAT or PCR – will also continue to be required for all travellers to the Cook Islands, although from May 1 we will be extending the pre-departure test period for RAT tests from 24 hours to 48 hours, to match the same period required for PCR tests.
At the same time we will be updating our air border regulations so that pre-departure COVID tests for travellers to the Cook Islands can be taken anywhere, not just in New Zealand, allowing travellers from Australia or other countries to travel direct to the Cook Islands as long as they meet all other requirements.
Finally for today – consultations are ongoing with the various island governments regarding travel to the Pa Enua and the current Ministerial Order suspending Pa Enua travel will be extended for a further two weeks.
At this point we are proposing an opening date for Pa Enua travel of April 18 for the southern group and April 25 for the northern group. TMO is still in discussions with our Island governments about reopening and we will be able to confirm those dates next week.
That’s all I’ve got for you today, but I want everyone to know that it is thanks to the combined efforts of us all that we are at this point now where we’re able to start loosening and lifting some of our COVID-related regulations and restrictions.
One of the main reasons we have been able to do this is because of our very high vaccination rates, so just a reminder that TMO is running another vaccination day tomorrow from the Nikao Social Centre between 8am and 4pm.
Anyone wanting their first, second or third shot is welcome to come along, as well as any children who need the paediatric vaccine.
No reira ki tou tatou i te tangata tikae, aere mai ea’a tatou e ekoko i teia patia paruru, te kite nei tatou tona meitaki i te paruru ia tatou.
And before I go, just a recap of our current case numbers – as of 8am this morning we have had 1257 positive cases in total, with 740 recovered and 517 still active.
So our journey with Covid continues, and while it is important that we continue to take this virus seriously, it is equally important to celebrate our victories and make changes where and when we can.
Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s getting brighter every day – and we definitely know it’s not a train coming.
Stay safe everyone, and may God continue to bless us all.
Kia orana tatou katoatoa, e kia manuia.
Hon Mark Brown