Traditional Koutu Nui leaders strongly oppose the reopening of the Cook Islands border to visitors.
Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth says the country’s border should remain closed “until all precautions are taken”.
And now Puna Rakanui, the secretary of the House of Ariki, says they too will be discussing their position on the matter.
The Koutu Nui’s comments come amid discussions between Cook Islands and New Zealand officials on an air-bridge.
Allsworth is sceptical, saying it risks allowing Covid-19 to enter the country. “The Health Ministry is saying we are ready and prepared for Covid-19,” he said.
“To me it’s absurd, we don’t get the virus to come into the country and then face it, we stop it at the border. The best defence is making sure it doesn’t enter the country.
“We should not open our borders until we have a vaccine. Who is going to be held responsible for the death and loss of lives? Not if, but when, this deadly virus kills our Pa Metua once our borders reopen.”
New Zealand today marks 100 days without community transmission of Covid-19, after the first known case was imported into the country on February 26.
However, its director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says resumed community transmission of Covid-19 within New Zealand is inevitable. “It’s not a matter of if, but when we do get the virus back in the community,” he told Newshub.
Paul Allsworth said Cook Islands should take into account the warning of a second wave of transmission in New Zealand, when considering an air-bridge.
“We should check everyone at the border before allowing them into the country,” he said. “Although New Zealand doesn’t have any community transmission, we can’t take our chances.”
Allsworth said the general public was not prepared to reopen borders to visitors, adding it was the business people pushing hard to life border controls.
“The majority of people don’t want the borders to reopen yet, it’s the hoteliers and those business people from overseas who are pushing for this. They are more worried about their pockets then people’s lives,” he said.
“I want to ask them and the government, who will be responsible for the deaths if the virus comes into the country? New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is being very cautious because she has learned the lesson from the measles pandemic in Samoa.
“She won’t let this happen to Cook Islands or the other realm countries and I fully support her for taking her time to make a decision on the travel bubble.”
Fletcher Melvin, the chair of the Private Sector Taskforce, said they wouldn’t have recommended the travel bubble if it was unsafe.
Melvin said everyone was affected by this crisis and they have to look at ways to safely revive the local economy.
“When we talk of the private sector, we are essentially meaning all people who work outside of government. We have no other means of income after the subsidy ends,” he said.
“We are concerned where our next pay cheque will come from after September – who is going to pay for education, health, and more? Even government can’t be sustained forever and that is why we are on the same page in terms of getting the economy going.
“It’s not business owners who should be the only ones concerned about this; we all live by the same economic reality.
“There is at no time been any suggestions that we should open up to anywhere else except New Zealand and that is because of the safety aspect.”
Allsworth said: “Covid-19 is affecting the whole world; we just have to face this new reality and do things differently. Everybody is suffering, not just the Cook Islands and our economy.”