The Cook Islands: A Covid-19 success story!

The Cook Islands: A Covid-19 success story!
May 25, 2020 Jesper Bornak

The Cook Islands is a nation in the South Pacific, with political and historical links to New Zealand. It is comprised of 15 small islands, which are scattered over a vast 240 sq kilometres geographical area. The islands sit half way between New Zealand and Hawaii and boast a temperate climate and pure relaxation! The largest island Rarotonga, is home to rugged mountains and Avarua, the national capital. To the north, Aitutaki Island has a vast lagoon encircled by coral reefs and small, sandy islets.

 

The Cook Islands are a self-governing nation  in free association with New Zealand New Zealand is responsible for the Cook Islands’ defense and foreign affairs, but these responsibilities are exercised in consultation with the Cook Islands themselves.

In recent times, the Cook Islands have adopted an increasingly independent foreign policy, however Cook Islanders are automatically  citizens of New Zealand, but they also have the status of Cook Islands nationals, which is not given to other New Zealand citizens. They are also an active member of the Pacific Community, since 1980.

Each year over 168,000 visitors travel to the islands, and as such tourism is the country’s main industry, and the leading element of the economy, ahead of offshore banking, pearls, and marine and fruit exports.

The Cook Islands were first settled by around AD 1000 by Polynesian people who are thought to have migrated from Tahiti. Spanish ships visited the islands in the 16th century, however the first written record came in 1595 when the island of Pukapuka was sighted by a spanish sailor who gave it the name San Bernardo (Saint Bernard). British navigator Captain James Cook (who discovered New Zealand) arrived in 1773 and again in 1777. This is where the islands name is derived from.

The economy of The Cook Islands is strongly affected by geography. It is isolated from foreign markets, and has some inadequate infrastructure as well as lacking in major natural resources. Tourism provides the economic base that makes up approximately 67.5% of GDP. Additionally, the economy is supported by foreign aid, largely from New Zealand. The top exports of the Cook Islands are Non-fillet Frozen Fish, Fish Fillets, Tug Boats, Coin and Recreational Boats . Its top imports are Refined Petroleum , Recreational Boats, Cars and Flavoured Water . The top export destinations of the Cook Islands are Japan, China , Greece ,Germany, and South Korea while the majority of imports come from New Zealand, Fiji , Italy, China and Australia. The Cook Islands is expanding its agriculture, mining and fishing sectors, with varying success.

However, let me tell you a bit more about the Cook Islands’ possibly unique situation in relation to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Currently, according to the latest World Health Organization figures, the Cook Islands are one of just 17 countries worldwide with zero reported cases of Covid-19!. In the Cook Islands a total of 1070 people have been tested for Covid-19 by the Cook Islands health ministry – about 7% of the resident population, a statistic thought to be second only to world leader Iceland, which has tested 12.4% of its 364,000 population. By comparison, as of Monday New Zealand had carried out 86,305 tests, equating to 1.8% of the total population here.

But it’s not just their dedicated testing regime that has seen the Cook Islands triumph over Covid-19! At the same time as the government here implemented strict border measures for people travelling from New Zealand to the Pacific Islands, the Cook Islands also started taking what steps they could to protect their small, isolated and vulnerable populace from the ravages of this deadly virus. All direct flights from Australia, the US and French Polynesia have been cancelled, leaving New Zealand the sole remaining gateway to the Cook Islands. All cruise ships, pleasure crafts and yachts are also banned from entering Cook Islands waters. For a country whose economy is hugely dependent on tourism, these are drastic measures to take – but they have worked! As Covid-19 sweeps the globe, the Cook Islands has been spared, so far – not one person has returned a positive test. The Cook Islands’ main island, Rarotonga, has only one hospital with 80 beds and only two respirators, and as a large portion of the population suffers from secondary health conditions, including diabetes and obesity-related illnesses, this makes the Cook Island people particularly vulnerable to the virus.

But…..If the Cook Islands had a theme song, it would be Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”. Because if you are lucky enough to travel there, that’s how you’ll end up feeling!

Here are nine other things that you may not know about the Cook Islands!

  1. No building can be taller than a coconut tree!
  2. You can use the entire island as your resort
  3. They brew their own fine craft beer: Matutu Brewing
  4. The Cook Islands have some of the world’s best snorkelling and waters
  5. There are no traffic lights!
  6. So many adventure activities
  7. There are no snakes or spiders on the islands
  8. There is no McDonalds (or any fast food chain!)
  9. The locals are warm, friendly and inviting

So congratulations to the people of The Cook Islands – over 100 years in existence and Covid-19 free! The only problem with The Cook Islands is ….. you won’t want to leave.