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[Media Release - MFAI] Cook Islands and New Zealand – facing the threat of Covid-19 together

Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki - Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration

20 March 2020

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has emphasized the importance of the Cook Islands-New Zealand relationship as both countries grapple with the threats and challenges of the corona disease (Covid-19).

Said Prime Minister Puna, “We find ourselves in extraordinary times that require of our people unprecedented levels of faith, solidarity and community to deal with the global pandemic that is Covid-19 causing health, social and economic upheaval in every country. Never has the depth and breadth of our ties of kinship and family with New Zealand been more important than now, and in the months to come.”

The Cook Islands, as part of the Realm of New Zealand, has long benefitted from access to the New Zealand health system, via the Patient Referral system and various Memoranda of Understanding between our respective Ministries of Health, District Health Boards and medical service providers. These have been evolved over the years by both Governments in a manner which has supported the evolving capabilities and public health resources of the Cook Islands, whilst preserving always the referral of Cook Islands patients to New Zealand for critical additional medical services not able to be provided on Rarotonga. The extensive and growing Cook Islands health professionals diaspora in New Zealand, inclusive of the likes of Dr’s Joe Williams, Kiki Maoate, George Ngaei and many others has also been an invaluable dimension of the bilateral health co-operation between the two countries.

“I could not be prouder as Prime Minister of our national Covid-19 response efforts to date, led by our health experts working closely with all segments of our society through a whole of society approach,” said Prime Minister Puna. “Almost all of those efforts have drawn on our own resources, initiative, Cook Islands ingenuity, dedication and courage. It is, however, also incumbent on me, on behalf of our Government and people, to extend our deepest gratitude to the leadership of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, her Cabinet and people for their unwavering commitment and support to the Cook Islands, as evidenced in the comprehensive manner in which they have factored into New Zealand’s overall Covid-19 response measures the health and well-being of our people and our country. Through the toughest of travel restrictions, New Zealand has preserved our health lifeline for critical patients to New Zealand. It has also provided various types of technical assistance, including beyond the public health fora; sourced essential medical supplies; prioritised consular assistance to Cook Islanders and more. Meitaki maata Aotearoa.”

Communications between the two Governments on Covid-19 responses have been active for weeks, and stepped up significantly over the last month, and especially the last week. These are happening in Rarotonga and Wellington, at multiple levels and through an array of channels. Overall co-ordination of communications is being managed through the two Foreign Ministries, with now daily and frequent interactions between the two Governments via Foreign Affairs Headquarters and Diplomatic Missions in Rarotonga and Wellington.

“Integral to the effectiveness and success of our Covid-19 interventions and responses requiring New Zealand support has been the warm high level relationships that exist, strong governance frameworks and systems of co-operation; and significantly in these times of upheaval, existing professional and personal relationships between our diplomats and senior officials,” said Cook Islands Foreign Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann. “We are cognizant of New Zealand’s own mobilization priorities as relate to their national Covid-19 containment challenges and grateful that the Cook Islands needs and requests continue to receive priority consideration by the New Zealand Government during these most difficult times.”

“It is imperative to keep in mind that as we by necessity focus our immediate efforts and whole of society energies on delaying the arrival of Covid-19 to the Cook Islands, and strengthen our preparedness to contain and minimize spread if and when it arrives, we do not lose sight of the inevitable longer-term recovery that will require the support of our closest partner, New Zealand,” said Secretary Herrmann. “Let us trust the depth of the relationship, the kinship that has been cornerstone of that relationship and the frameworks and processes through which we manage our co-operation and bilateral relationship. Our appreciation goes to the staff of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and particularly to New Zealand’s Acting High Commissioner Rachel Bennett and her team for the stellar and continued support and co-operation under very difficult circumstances. We continue to seek the understanding and patience of our people, and visitors to the Cook Islands as we work diligently and as quickly as we can to deal with all enquiries.”

Queries regarding this release can be directed to MFAI Director International Affairs Karo Ngatoko at Ph:29347


1 Prime Minister Puna and Prime Minister Ardern during PM Ardern State Visit to Rarotonga, March 2018

2 L-R: NZ Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, NZ PM Ardern, PM Puna and DPM Mark Brown – December 2017

3 Cook Islands-New Zealand Joint Ministerial Forum Working Group, Cook Islands Foreign Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann speaking, December 2019

4 Foreign Affairs officials of both governments, L-R: Jim Armistead, Cook Islands Charge d’affaires High Commission to Fiji; Rachel Bennett, NZ Acting High Commissioner to the Cook Islands; Foreign Secretary Herrmann; Okesene Moananu, NZ First Secretary, High Commisison to the Cook Islands; Josh Mitchell, Cook Islands Director UN & Treaties Division

5 Cook Islands Director International Division Karo Ngatoko and Sarah Short, Deputy High Commissioner, NZ High Commission to the Cook Islands


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