Covid-free Tokelau is the only Pacific Realm nation of New Zealand not in talks with the country about a possible one-way travel bubble.
The Cook Islands one-way travel free bubble is already in place with New Zealand, and talks are under way for a similar scheme with Niue.
That is not the case, however, for Tokelau, the most remote Realm territory.
Instead, the pandemic has brought heightened isolation and uncertainty to the New Zealand territory, which is reachable only by boat from Samoa.
While there are no cases of Covid-19 in Tokelau, two confirmed cases caught in managed isolation by its nearest neighbour Samoa caused widespread alarm.
“We are hearing that there are new variants, and that’s why people are a bit worried,” said Kelihiano Kalolo, the faipule, or leader, of Tokelau’s Atafu atoll.
He added that people were advised to avoid unnecessary travel to Tokelau, which has been operating a two-week isolation period.
Despite Tokelau’s relative isolation, local officials are taking no chances with Covid-19.
Several isolation centres are being built across the three atolls in preparation for any suspected or confirmed cases, Kalolo said.
On Atafu they have had to get creative: an old hotel has been repurposed, and the school building has been renovated in case it’s needed for an overflow of patients.
Isolating on the thin, beach-laden rings of land that make up Tokelau’s atolls is a unique challenge. In some cases, designated isolation centres sit just 200 metres from the main villages. Locals on Atafu have constructed temporary shelters on outer islets in case the population needs to spread out.
Kalolo said one clear lesson from the pandemic is the need for an airstrip in Tokelau.
“For medical purposes, yes, it is a must. If we have a pandemic, we depend very much on our two boats, the Kalopaga and the Mataliki, but it would have been better if we had an airstrip,” he said.
Kalolo added that travel restrictions in Samoa had slowed the flow of goods and building materials to Tokelau.
New Zealand agreed to help fund an airstrip in 2019, but Kalolo said it had not been discussed by Tokelau’s government since the start of the pandemic. The project is slated to be built in Nukunonu, Tokelau’s largest atoll.
A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said potential airfield sites had been scouted out by the Defence Force. They added that New Zealand had provided $4.26 million to Tokelau in budgetary and other support to assist with its Covid-19 response.
Kalolo said a drafted vote in independence from New Zealand, still to go before Tokelau’s parliament, has also been put on ice until the pandemic passes.
(Source : Radio New Zealand 2021, Mackenzie Smith 03 February 2021