Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has unveiled details of a potential two-way travel bubble with the Cook Islands after talking to the country's Prime Minister earlier today.
Ardern met with Cook Islands PM Mark Brown this afternoon where the pair spoke about the details of such a bubble.
In today's press conference, Brown said the Cook Islands has asked for a date for the bubble, which will begin in the "month of May", he said. But it is unclear when in May that bubble will start.
Brown said there are still a few areas where the two countries will need to find agreement, but he was confident that can be found by May.
"We have had a year to prepare ourselves", Brown said, and the Cooks has its own systems in place to make sure Covid does not get in. "We're ready for business - we're looking forward to the commencement in May."
Brown said the Cook Islands was looking toward New Zealand when it comes to its recovery. "We're hopeful that our recovery will come sooner, rather than later," he said.
But he was hopeful the Islands will recover with New Zealand's help. He said New Zealand and the Cook Islands have always had a strong relationship. "We look forward to progressing all the conversations we have had," Brown said.
Ardern said the two countries have been working on a bubble for "some time".
But she said having a vaccine won't be contingent on being able to travel between the countries. She said there will be vaccination programmes in the Islands - but, given its population bases, New Zealand could go in and do a mass vaccination effort.
She said it was "incredibly important" to work with the Cook Islands to help with this rollout.
Ardern said Brown has made the economic impact of Covid-19 clear, and said the uncertainty around the lack of travel was something the pair had a frank discussion about.
But it was New Zealand that needed to prepare for the travel, as the risk was more on the Cook's shoulders and it would be people coming from New Zealand who posed more danger.
At the moment, there is a one-way bubble between the two countries but there have been pushes for that to be fully opened up.
"One-way quarantine-free travel began in January to test the protocols and the green corridor. It's working perfectly well," Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce CEO Eve Hayden told the AM Show.
"We now have random people coming into the country like judges and lawyers and medical people.
"They don't seem to be any less infectious than tourists so we have no idea why tourism is not allowed at this point."
Yesterday the Cook Islands launched the CookSafe+ app, developed by Rush Digital RUSH, which created the NZ Covid Tracer app with New Zealand's Ministry of Health.
It will be available to Cook Islands residents and to Kiwis visiting the islands.
Even if director general of health Ashley Bloomfield signs off the health criteria for the bubble, it wouldn't start immediately.
Caution over the bubble starting has centred over the lack of health infrastructure there, and how quickly the health system would be overwhelmed in an outbreak.
The measles epidemic in Samoa in 2019 and the number of escalating daily Covid-19 cases in Papua New Guinea this month underline the risk of exporting the virus to the Cook Islands.
Tourism is one of the most important sectors for the Cook Islands – it makes up 80-85 per cent of the economy.
But it has been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hayden said business owners have been struggling and government handouts have only been enough to "eat and live".
Earlier this week, Ardern revealed that the Government would announce when the travel bubble with Australia will come into force on April 6.
Before then, a number of technical issues need to be resolved and appropriate regulatory mechanisms need to be in place, Ardern said.
Bloomfield will also provide an assessment.
Ardern said there have been 12 meetings between Australian and New Zealand officials about the travel bubble. The Government was looking at a state-by-state bubble.
"We are having to create a brand new rulebook."
Ardern said "part of the talks" with the Australian Government have related to visa issues - such as people getting a visa to come to New Zealand.