A New Zealand airline executive has called for a travel bubble with Australia because it represents an equal "risk" to the Cook Islands - which Jacinda Ardern today opened up to Kiwis.
The Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ) executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers has applauded the move to allow Kiwis to travel to the Cook Islands without quarantining.
But Tighe-Umbers says the move justifies a transtasman bubble as soon as possible.
"Cook Islands – great! Now let's get the transtasman bubble going too and use a country-risk based model to bring together family and friends from both sides of the Tasman," Tighe-Umbers said.
"Taking a risk-based approach for countries like the Cooks makes total sense. It allows travellers who pose no risk to New Zealand directly into the country and frees up valuable quarantine accommodation.'
"Australia represents a similar low risk to the Cook Islands and hundreds of Kiwi firms are desperate for the uptick a bubble would bring."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cook Islands counterpart Mark Brown have instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of next year.
"The arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. It will allow people to travel more easily between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from Covid-19," Ardern said.
Tighe-Umbers said an Australian travel bubble was urgently needed to save struggling airlines.
"The Cook Islands are ideal to test the safe zone concept, but following it up quickly with an Australian safe zone is going to be critical for keeping beleaguered airlines and the wider aviation sector in business," Tighe-Umbers said.
Cook Island PM Mark Brown welcomed the progress, noting that the free movement of people between New Zealand and the Cook Islands was central to the countries' close relationship and integral to the Cook Islands' recovery from the impact of Covid-19.
The Cook Islands remains one of the few countries around the world and the Pacific region to remain totally free of Covid-19.
As a result, the first step to the new agreement will involve New Zealand officials working to implement quarantine-free access into New Zealand for anyone travelling from the Cook Islands.
This will be the first time anyone arriving from a different country will not have to carry out the mandatory 14-day managed isolation.
That first step is part of a "phased approach", a statement said.
Ardern said: "Quarantine-free access for travellers from the Cook Islands to New Zealand will provide for the movement of people for delivering essential services, while allowing officials to finalise preparations for a safe return to two-way quarantine-free travel."