Similar to the arrangement it has with Australia, New Zealand will open a "travel bubble" with the tiny Cook Islands this month, adopting quarantine-free arrangements, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.
Ardern said the bubble with the South Pacific island state of about 20,000 people would open May 17 and initially involve about three flights a week.
"Two-way quarantine-free travel is a significant step in both countries' COVID-19 recovery, and a direct result of both New Zealand and the Cook Islands' successful response to the pandemic," she said.
The remote Cook Islands is one of the few places in the world to remain COVID-19-free, while New Zealand has eliminated community transmission and recorded only 25 deaths in a population of 5 million.
The Cook Islands is self-governing in "free association" with New Zealand, meaning that while it administers its own affairs, Cook Islanders are both New Zealand citizens and Cook Islands nationals.
As a result, there are more expatriate Cook Islanders living in New Zealand than on the islands.
"(The bubble) will mean families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands' tourism sector and recovery," Ardern said.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said the bubble was a result of "uncompromising commitment" to safety and protection.
"Today we start our journey of recovery. Today we get back to business. Today with our joint confirmation of May 17, we give our people, and particularly our industry, the certainty necessary to institute remaining preparatory steps to once more welcome visitors to our shores."
The long-awaited travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia opened last month and has been hailed as a major milestone in restarting a global travel industry gutted by the pandemic.
New Zealand opposition leader Judith Collins said Wellington should now prioritize opening travel bubbles with Tonga and Samoa, two Pacific island nations that have detected no community cases of COVID-19.
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