One-way Cook Island travel bubble to New Zealand to start next week

FILE PHOTO: A passenger arrives from New Zealand after the Trans-Tasman travel bubble opened overnight, following an extended border closure due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, October 16, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - People from the Cook Islands can start quarantine-free travel to New Zealand next week, the two governments said on Friday, but New Zealand-based people will have to wait until later in the year to visit the Cook Islands.

The Cook Islands is one of the few countries to remain COVID-free.

Leaders of the South Pacific countries had announced plans for two-way travel in December, which would be New Zealand's first reciprocal "travel bubble" since the novel coronavirus brought border closures around the world.

But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement the plan would be one way for now.

"Following confirmation of the Cook Islands' COVID free status, and the implementation of strict health and border protocols we are now in the position to resume quarantine-free travel for passengers from the Cook Islands into New Zealand," Ardern said.

Travellers from the Cook Islands can arrive in New Zealand from Jan. 21 and do not have to quarantine, but the criteria for New Zealanders entering into the Cook Islands does not change. Entry into the Cook Islands is limited to Cook Islanders and holders of work and residence permits who meet health entry requirements.

"We said we would take a phased approach to resuming two-way travel and will do so only once all safety protocols can be met," Ardern said, adding that they are aiming to start two-way quarantine-free travel within the first quarter of 2021.

About 80,000 New Zealanders identify as Cook Islanders, according to New Zealand figures, several times the population of the islands itself. The Cook Islands is an independent country but its citizens automatically receive New Zealand citizenship.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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