Bill Ralston: Cold comfort in the Cook Islands travel bubble

The Cook Islands travel bubble is now opening up. An ice-cold beer at Trader Jacks in Rarotonga, a swim at Muri Beach and lounging by the pool on Aitutaki. Ah, no thanks. Not at the moment. I might wait a few months.

The pandemic has made most of us much more conservative about overseas travel than we were 18 months ago. As appealing as Queensland or the Cooks may be as temperatures here drop overnight and winter looms, most of us will sit tight. We are nervous about what may happen next. Better to stay home and get that vaccination before making a move.

Except the rollout here is slow. At the time of writing about 60,000 folk have had both shots, which is just over 1 per cent of the population. At this rate, vaccinating us all will probably take most of 2021. This is because we’ve been so successful at remaining Covid-free that we are low priority for vaccine deliveries.

So, we wait. You know the score by now. Border workers and their families get their shots first. Healthcare workers next. Then the over-65s and others most at risk. Prisoners will get their shots before most of you. The rest of the population aged over 16 are predicted to get them sometime in the second half of the year.

Canada has already vaccinated a third of its population, although only 3 per cent are fully vaccinated, and the US is predicted to have inoculated everyone who wants a shot by the end of June. Currently, 32 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Small travel bubbles aside, the big question is: can this country and the world get back to the same place we were with quarantine-free international travel before Covid-19 appeared? The answer, in the medium term, is no. Even if you are fully inoculated and head overseas, there is still a risk you can pick up the virus and be asymptomatic, unknowingly spreading the disease to those who have not had the shots.

Opening our arrival gates to those who can prove they’ve had their inoculations poses the risk of travellers having fraudulent certification.

And there is no guarantee that an inoculation will last indefinitely. The only evidence for now is that relative immunity lasts at least eight months. Then there is the problem of virus mutation.

So, we wait for herd immunity, except no one knows at what level of worldwide vaccination that will set in, if at all.

The likeliest scenario for that fully open arrivals gate is that if enough of us get our shots, then any Covid-19 outbreaks here will be small and containable. Covid-19 will likely remain in the world on a much smaller scale and those with immunity can cope. For those of you who are anti-vaxxers, good luck.

Lastly, the best reason for fully opening the border is that it might allow Speaker Trevor Mallard to take a long, restorative holiday. Having falsely accused someone of rape and belatedly apologising, costing the taxpayer $330,000 in the process, he then doubled down under parliamentary privilege by saying the man did commit sexual assault.

Frankly, as Speaker of the House, his behaviour is tawdry and disturbing, to say the least. I recall previous speakers, such as Richard Harrison, Kerry Burke, and Lockwood Smith, who were models of probity and respect in comparison with Mallard, who is best known as a down and dirty streetfighter.

The question is, can we all now get immunised against Trevor Mallard?

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