New Zealand creates its first 'travel bubble' with Cook Islands

In a photo taken on Aug 30, 2012, a tourist uses a stand up paddle board at Muri beach on Rarotonga, the largest island in the Cook Islands. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - New Zealand and the Cook Islands will let people travel between the countries without quarantine, they said on Saturday (Dec 12), in what would be New Zealand's first reciprocal "travel bubble" since the new coronavirus prompted border closures around the world.

Leaders of the South Pacific countries said they had ordered officials to start making arrangements to resume free travel between them from the first quarter of 2021, citing low infection rates and their "special ties".

The Cook Islands is one of the only countries to remain free of Covid-19.

New Zealand joined countries around the world in shutting its borders in March to stop the coronavirus spreading.

Neighbouring Australia wants to have a similar travel bubble with New Zealand and has opened its borders, but New Zealand has so far declined.

"The arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown called the plan "the next step towards resuming many aspects of life in the Cook Islands that have been disrupted by Covid-19, including access to health and education, and reuniting family and friends".

About 80,000 New Zealanders identify as Cook Islanders, according to New Zealand figures, several times the Cook Islands population itself.

The Cook Islands is an independent country but its citizens automatically get New Zealand citizenship.

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