Kia orana tatou katoatoa,
Cabinet met a short time ago to consider some changes to our current air border entry requirements. This is in response to the changing situation in New Zealand as they adjust to the increasing Omicron infection rate. Some of the entry requirements that are in place are now redundant and need changing.
Although Cabinet has made these decisions today, we still require drafting of the regulations to amend those changes and Executive Council to put them into effect. I have asked my team to do this as quickly as possible, by next week.
The first change is that the negative COVID-19 test to enter the Cook Islands can now include a RAT taken 24 hours before departure. The RAT test is now widely available in NZ and will need to be done under supervision to be valid. At the time the previous regulations were made, RATs were not readily or widely available in New Zealand. However, in recent months the supply of RATs in New Zealand has significantly increased, including at pharmacies, and are now widely used across New Zealand. TMO will have a list of many places and pharmacies where this can be done quickly and at greatly reduced cost.
The second decision is to remove the requirement for travellers to have been in NZ or the Cook Islands for 10 days before travel to the Cook Islands. New Zealand has recently removed the need for New Zealand passport holders travelling into NZ to enter MIQ. If you are in NZ or have just arrived in NZ, then you will be able travel to the Cook Islands without the need for 10 days stand down in NZ. This will make it easier for our people from Australia in particular to visit home.
At the time the previous regulations were made, there was no COVID-19 in the Cook Islands and limited transmission in the community in New Zealand. A 10 day stand down in New Zealand was important as a “buffer” between the Cook Islands and the rest of the world, to mitigate the risk of new COVID-19 variants directly entering the Cook Islands. However, given New Zealand’s current situation, and the fact that New Zealand has opened QFT to the rest of the world, means this requirement is redundant and offers no additional protection to the Cook Islands.
Travellers to the Cook Islands will still be required to return a negative test prior to entering the Cook Islands border, and TMO considers that to provide sufficient protection.
Thirdly the current temporary restrictions on border entry for unvaccinated Cook Islanders and Permanent Residents will be removed as soon as Executive Council passes these amendments which I expect by next week. Whilst previously unvaccinated people posed a greater risk of spreading the more lethal delta variant, it is now much clearer that unvaccinated people pose a greater risk to themselves rather than others when they are infected with COVID-19.
We do remain concerned that persons who are unvaccinated are much more vulnerable to Covid, with markedly worse health outcomes in comparison to those who are vaccinated. Unvaccinated people pose an increased risk of adding pressure to our health system, particularly, as our country enters an intense period of Omicron infections.
Fourthly we will be removing the use of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) and self-isolation for unvaccinated Cook Islanders and Permanent Residents
The previous regulations allowed unvaccinated Cook Islanders and Permanent Residents to return to the Cook Islands, so long as they complied with additional public health measures upon arrival. For those who were eligible to be vaccinated, and did not have a medical exemption, this included entering supervised MIQ at their own cost.
This measure was designed to keep COVID-19 out of the country. This is no longer the case and the need for MIQ is now redundant. The focus now is on slowing down the spread and limiting the impact on vulnerable people.
These were the decisions that Cabinet made today, on advice from Te Marae Ora.
One other change I can tell you about is one made by Te Marae Ora, one that did not need Cabinet approval.
From midnight tonight, and in alignment with New Zealand, the Isolation and Quarantine period for those who test positive for COVID-19, and their close contacts, will move from 10 days to 7 days. This keeps us in line with clinical evidence of Omicron and the likelihood of transmission occurring early in the infectious period and the likelihood of high public adherence to this requirement. Testing will still take place as per TMO advice. All persons currently undertaking isolation and quarantine before this change comes into effect will continue to honour their existing isolation and quarantine timeframes.
With respect to our covid statistics, I can advise that as of 8am this morning we have recorded 247 cases of which 61 of those cases have now recovered and have been released from isolation. This leaves us with a balance of 186 cases. All are either mildly symptomatic or have no symptoms at all. And there are no cases in hospital.
Included in the cases reported today is a second case on Aitutaki, one detected this morning.
This case, a student, received the 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday 7 March and developed flu like symptoms on Tuesday.
Symptoms progressed on Wednesday and this morning, with vomiting and fevers. A RAT test taken earlier today returned a positive result.
The case has been isolated at home and is being monitored by the Aitutaki health care team. There are 6 household members, currently asymptomatic who been ordered into quarantine and who have all returned negative RAT tests today. They will undergo quarantine and scheduled testing as per TMO protocol.
In addition to all the above, the Ministerial Order that was due to expire this evening to do with Indoor and Outdoor Events and Social Gatherings, Contact Sports and Pa Enua Travel has been extended to 11.59pm on Thursday 17 March.
Again, I want to say to all our people who have taken the time to either get themselves tested, vaccinated or both recently – meitaki ma’ata. Your efforts are a major factor in the success we are having in managing this virus.
We all have a role to play in managing this virus and slowing down its spread. Wear your masks, keep your distance from others, wash your hands regularly and avoid indoor gatherings.
Thank you all for playing your part in helping to protect the Cook Islands from Covid-19.
May God continue to bless us all.
Kia orana tatou katoatoa, e kia manuia.
Hon Mark Brown