The Prime Minister is beseeching families to stay away from Rarotonga Airport this Friday, as 130 stranded Cook Islanders fly into the country and are loaded straight onto buses to another two weeks’ isolation.
“This first step is critical in terms of ensuring strict public health measures when they arrive, their processing through customs and straight on to buses to transport them to the Edgewater Resort and Spa,” Henry Puna said last night.
“I kindly request everyone, families included, to please exercise patience and cooperate with the arrangements we have established. Cook Islands Police will be overseeing all security measures.”
The extreme caution comes after alarm on Easter Island/Rapanui last week, when 16 locals about to board repatriation flights home from Chile were tested positive for the coronavirus.
The returning Cook Islanders, including 38 members of the Golden Oldies netball team, will have already completed 14 days’ supervised quarantine and medical clearance process in Auckland at the Holiday Inn and provided negative Covid-19 tests.
Border agencies have met to discuss plans for their arrival, and to work through the logistics for the safe processing of travellers through the arrivals terminal, ensuring physical distancing. Buses will transport them direct to the Edgewater.
At the Edgewater they will undertake a 14-day supervised quarantine “under strict supervision”. The medical clearance process will require them to produce another negative swab test before they rejoin their families in their homes.
They will be required to stay in their rooms with their movements limited to their designated areas. All meals will be delivered to them; most will have onsite laundry facilities and the opportunity to exercise twice daily.
Cook Islands Police, Edgewater Security and members of the 10 Rarotonga Puna will work ro ensure the hotel borders are secure from intruders, and guests remain in their rooms outside of scheduled exercise times.
Most will have been in self-quarantine or managed isolation for eight weeks before they are allowed home to their families, the last four of these separated from all other human contact. They were required to verbally agree that they would not speak publicly about their experience.
Puna said there would be no visitors to the resort, and nobody allowed to leave the resort.
“They will be excited to be on home soil again after so many weeks away, although they may be anxious while still under the attention of our health authorities.
“So they will need our love and support, and above all, our encouragement to uphold the quarantine requirements for the safety of us all.”
Last night, New Zealand-based Cook Islands community worker Thomas Wynne said the group were generally in good spirits and looking forward to getting home and doing their next 14-day quarantine.
“They have resigned themselves to what’s needed to get home and have made the best of their situation by keeping on our group Facebook chat and walking in the car park.
“There is some anxiety as to how they will be treated when they are home as comments still are posted on them being insolent and akatangata, but for the most part they are thankful that finally they will be home.
“And for the group in Atiu Hall that will be nearly two months since they have seen their loved ones, their homes and their work for what should have been a 10-day trip away.”
Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman said the process was designed to minimise the risk of the Sars-CoV-2 virus being introduced into the Cook Islands, after the country was declared a Covid-19 free zone on April 16. “We want to ensure we maintain this status,” she said.
Families wishing to bring food or clothes for their loved ones must leave these at the drop-off location that will be established at the Edgewater for delivery to rooms.
Te Marae Ora will provide onsite nursing care, which includes daily health checks. Medical assistance and mental health services will be available as required as will support from Internal Affairs as regards any welfare needs.
“Te Marae Ora will also work closely with Hotel employees to ensure infection prevention and control procedures are followed,” Dr Herman said.