A short time ago, Prime Minister Mark Brown addressed the nation. Here is his address:
Kia orana tatou katoatoa,
Sadly, the last time I stood before you to deliver a Covid-19 update we had just recorded our first official death from this virus, a 63-year-old woman from the island of Aitutaki.
While our thoughts are still with her anau and those close to her, we should also be grateful and relieved that this remains our only official Covid death to date.
With the worst of the pandemic all but over in Rarotonga, and Aitutaki past the peak of infections there, the rest of the Pa Enua is now where our focus lies.
As of 8am this morning, Atiu has recorded a total of 100 positive cases, with 51 recovered and 49 still active.
Tongareva, Mauke and Mitiaro are the only other islands to have also recorded positive cases so far, although none are currently active, with three recovered cases each in Tongareva and Mauke, and one recovered in Mitiaro.
In total, the Cook Islands has now recorded 5367 positive cases, with just 136 currently active, 5230 recovered and one death. And no one hospitalised.
While that one death still hurts, we are incredibly fortunate to be in the position we are in today – although it is not luck that has seen us reach this point, but diligence, hard work and careful management.
There have been several factors working in our favour with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Firstly, we went hard and we went early in closing down our borders and restricting inbound travel into the country from March 2020, nearly two and a half years ago now.
This early closing of our borders and later travel restrictions helped us shut out the Covid-19 virus completely for two years, until February of this year – an amazing achievement really.
Secondly, and possibly most importantly at this point in time, our extremely high vaccination rate has given us a very high level of protection against Covid, with an incredible 98% of our eligible population aged 12 and over having had at least two vaccine doses as of this week, along with 80% of our 5-11 year-old population.
Other factors in our success against Covid include our people’s willingness to follow the mandated public health measures and the fact that to some extent we have been able to stagger our Covid response by first concentrating on Rarotonga, then Aitutaki and now the Pa Enua.
Our relatively small and concentrated populations on each of our islands have also made it far easier for our health ministry Te Marae Ora to test effectively, as well as monitoring and managing the ongoing spread of the virus.
So in short, when it comes to managing the health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cook Islands is far and away one of the world’s biggest success stories.
Recently however, there has been some speculation around our Covid statistics regarding deaths and hospitalisations, and local media have questioned the accuracy of these numbers.
To make it absolutely clear, a person who is Covid-positive but passes away due to another medical condition is not recorded as a Covid death. Only a person who is Covid-positive and passes away due to respiratory failure is officially defined as a Covid death.
Similarly, a person is only recorded as a Covid hospitalisation if Covid is the primary cause of them being admitted to hospital.
It is true that so far to date we have had 13 patients admitted to hospital who have tested positive for Covid-19 – but all 13 of these people were initially admitted for other reasons, such as miscarriage or gallstones, not due to Covid.
Another rumour currently doing the rounds is that many people have now been re-infected and have caught the Covid-19 virus a second time. So far however, no one has registered as having been infected twice. TMO would definitely like to know if this has happened, but to date we have no one who has been infected twice.
Now while this is possible, current medical thinking is that it is extremely unlikely for a person to suffer a second Omicron infection within 90 days of their initial infection – and here in the Cook Islands we have not yet reached that 90-day mark as dated from our first case on February 13.
We will reach that milestone later this week on May 14, and it is from that point in time onwards that Te Marare Ora will be able to more accurately determine the possibility of any reinfections.
That said, if you do develop Omicron-like symptoms for a second time, please do stay home until those symptoms have cleared. We will know more about how we can deal with the possibility of Covid reinfection once we have moved further past that 90-day mark on May 14.
It has now been more than a week since we removed the mask-wearing mandates for Rarotonga and now mask wearing is only voluntary.
Businesses and other places open to the public need to be aware that there is no legal mandate to force people to wear masks – as I said before, it is purely voluntary now.
It is also good to see social distancing no longer required in churches, with our church seats being filled with worshippers – and I think our businesses who are still keeping people lined up outside can start to remove these restrictions.
I think we can all be relieved that more restrictions will be removed as the virus passes through our country. Our people in the Pa Enua will hopefully take comfort in what lies ahead for them by seeing how we have managed Covid on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
It is also encouraging that travel to the Pa Enua has opened up, albeit still with RAT testing for islands other than Aitutaki. We are starting to come back to normal.
And with daily international flights increasing in the next few months to twice daily and three times daily, our country will be bouncing back. One just has to walk through the market on Saturday to see how alive it is.
So stay healthy everyone and stay happy – and may God continue to bless us all.
Kia orana tatou katoatoa, e kia manuia.
Hon Mark Brown