A person has tested positive for COVID-19 in the Cook Islands for the first time since the pandemic began. As one of the last remaining countries in the world free of the deadly virus, the small Pacific nation had a couple of false alarms in 2021, but now a traveler from New Zealand has tested positive.
The infected person is said to have spent eight days in Rarotonga and only developed symptoms on the day of their return flight to New Zealand on Monday 7 February. They then later tested positive for the Omicron variant.
“Late last night the ministry of health in New Zealand advised that a flight that left Rarotonga last Monday on the 7th of February is a place of interest after a passenger on that flight tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19 after arriving back in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Mark Brown said in an address posted to Facebook on February 12.
In an attempt to identify close contacts, the COVID-19 Cook Islands Response has published a list of places the infected person is known to have tagged in on the Track and Trace system so that those potentially exposed can seek testing if they develop symptoms.
Following Prime Minister Brown’s address, they were also able to confirm that 31 close contacts of the infected traveler had been tested via PCR and their results had come back negative. Furthermore, they add that it’s likely the illness was contracted while in Rarotonga, rather than being brought over from New Zealand.
“Following a review of the information acquired locally and from NZ Ministry of Health, it is very likely that the person contracted the virus whilst in Rarotonga,” reads a statement on the site.
“This indicates that there may be 'silent transmission' occurring. Our high vaccination rates have played a role in terms of protection – in that people could get COVID but are experiencing mild symptoms and do not realise they have it.”
While officials have warned that it’s “likely that the virus is in our community”, the silver lining remains that the Cook Islands have been on top of their vaccination game with 96 percent of the eligible population vaccinated as of October last year.
“The fact that we have a high percentage of our people vaccinated will give us substantial protection from serious illness,” Brown said.
Residents and travelers in the Cook Islands are urged to reach out for testing if they experience symptoms of the disease, which are listed here.