Traditional leaders warn of the need to avoid a “coronavirus epidemic” if the tourists are allowed back in too soon.
There is mounting pressure from the Government, tourism operators and the Private Sector Taskforce for New Zealand to agree to reopen the border.
Prime Minister Henry Puna has been vocal in lobbying his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern, calling for the border to open next month to avoid Cook Islands’ economic collapse..
But some residents are pleased the New Zealand Government has not bowed to pressure to lift its blockade.
Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth said: “We support opening of borders for economic reasons but the reality is we have to be cautious about the possibility of asymptomatic cases that may reoccur here in the Cook Islands from the tourists coming in.”
That was why the New Zealand Government was being cautious, he surmised. “They don’t want to be responsible in the unlikely event that coronavirus epidemic does arrive here and we are faced with that situation.
“We don’t have the capacity to handle if such a pandemic does arrive here. Although we are optimistic there could be a margin of error that these dormant virus carriers could pose some risks.”
Allsworth believes the longer the border opening is delayed, the safer it will be.
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark others had suggested the New Zealand school holidays, which begin on July 4, but Allsworth suggested later in July.
Nga Teao-Papatua is apprehensive at the thought of the borders opening too soon to visitors from New Zealand.
“We must protect our people first, our country.
“I understand tourists are wanting to come here and it affects our economy, but we really need to be very careful, especially at the top decision making level.”
Teao-Papatua urges tourism operators, “to please have patience, there is no need to rush, our time will come; also look at us, our community, our priority is our people.”
Joan Livingstone is adamant that it is too early to allow visitors in the country from New Zealand.
“I agree with Jacinda Ardern not to open their border for Kiwis to travel here for a holiday, it’s too soon.
“What is the guarantee that none of the visitors will be a carrier of the virus? We don’t have the facilities to cope with a virus outbreak here, do the hoteliers really believe we will remain Covid-19 free when we open our borders? They’re dreaming.
“If they’re saying we are going broke without tourists, we will still be broke when we get that virus, along with many deaths,” Livingstone said.
“Believe it, we won’t be able to cope; let’s look at the situation in three months’ time and revaluate, we can’t afford the risks.”
Renall Vogel asked if Cook Islands had learnt nothing from the social distancing restrictions of the past few months, that caused the world to shut down? “How worried and scared we were for our loved ones?” he recalled. “We forget so easily.
“I think we need more time to grow up again with a different outlook, to look at our values, our lives, our families.
“Nature is recovering, the lagoon is healing, let’s not rush.
“Look at the clear lagoon, without the overload of sunscreen lotions damaging our coral, or septic tanks near the beaches polluting the lagoon, and fish have come back.”
Vogel would like to see a limited number of incoming flights with a capped quota of visitors per week, to ensure easier control and management.
>Additional reporting Rashneel Kumar