There is some good news out there amid the Covid19 pandemic. The Cook Islands has been declared free of the coronavirus. During his “address to the nation,” Prime Minister Henry Puna thanked God for giving people courage and strength during the country’s greatest threat in modern history. He said hundreds of Covid-19 tests taken in the Cook Islands had come back negative, and the country can officially be confirmed as a Covid-free zone – one of the first nations in the world to do so.
All schools will reopen this week, domestic travel restrictions to and from the Pa Enua (outer islands) will be lifted, non-contact sports can resume, cafés and restaurants can open for normal business but with physical distancing in place, and restrictions on the sale of alcohol will be reviewed.
Tereora College principal Tania Morgan said she and her staff were looking forward to opening their doors to all students, after the long and early Easter break. “We anticipate some challenges ahead but know that our students, staff and our community will be prepared as best as possible to meet those challenges,” she said. “We have developed our school guidelines based on information supplied by our Ministry of Education through the Ministry of Health. These guidelines will include what physical distancing and good hygiene practices will look like at Tereora College.”
Secretary of Education Danielle Tungane Cochrane thanks everyone who had made it possible to reopen the nation’s school this morning. “It could not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our students, their families and teachers,” she said.
“Together with Te Marae Ora and lead agencies, the Cook Islands could not have be at this important juncture if it weren’t for everyone’s commitment in following the hygiene and distancing measures put in place.”
“The Cook Islands is Covid-19 free and remains a safe place to be, and so are our schools. Teaching and learning will look quite different during these uncertain times and especially during code yellow but hygiene practices like regular hand-washing will continue as part of the school norm for everyone, and distancing will be managed as best as possible. We’re all looking forward to having our students back and learning resume, and thank parents and families for their ongoing support with getting children ready for learning.”
Also, churches have reopened over this past weekend. Religious Advisory Council president Eric Toleafoa said he was overjoyed. The Covid-19 threat had meant Cook Islands churches were operating in uncharted territory.”We are so used to worshipping together,” he said. “We have had to work on doing things differently and look at avenues to reach those stuck at home, but not everyone is on social media.”
Some of the churches have returned under strict health ministry rules: no congregational singing, recorded music preferred, but if they must have a choir, no more than five singers, all standing in a row and suitably distanced.
However, the Cook Islands government is under pressure to ease rules that people returning from overseas must spend two spells in quarantine. Prime Minister Henry Puna’s cabinet is developing a national action plan aimed at keeping country covid-19-free.
At the moment travellers must clear two weeks in a quarantine facility near Auckland airport, then head into another two weeks quarantine after they land in Rarotonga before being able to go home.
But for almost three hundred Cook Islanders already in lockdown across New Zealand, the policy is “too much”. They are asking their government for the same rights to head home as other repatriated citizens around the world, and are willing to be Covid-19 tested in New Zealand first before heading into quarantine on Rarotonga.