Dr Collin Tukuitonga. Photo/Auckland University (Facebook)

Tonga should be a priority in re-opening quarantine free travel, according to an Auckland academic.

Dr Collin Tukuitonga, who is Associate Dean Pacific at the University of Auckland Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, said quarantine-free travel would bring enormous economic benefits to the Islands.

Writing in IdeasRoom, Dr Tukuitonga said priority islands should be Tonga, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau.

“The economic benefits to small island economies cannot be overstated and most islands would welcome early restoration of economic activities to offset the damage brought on by the pandemic lockdowns,” he said.

“Tourism from New Zealand would recommence with minimal Covid-19 risks and trade would resume.”

He said the risk of introducing Covid-19 into New Zealand from the islands was near-zero and when New Zealand had been Covid-19-free for 28 days, the risk to the islands was near zero.

“Fiji could now be included in a New Zealand bubble as that nation was Covid-19-free for 35 days at the time of writing,” he said.

However, Australia was still showing new cases, which posed a threat to any trans-Tasman travel.

Dr Tukuitonga said New Zealand was the transit point for travel to and from these islands and Auckland was the home for many extended families from the islands and most Pacific communities would welcome the ability to reconnect with families and whanau.

He said  New Zealand had constitutional obligations to the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. It had a Treaty of Friendship with Samoa and long historical relationships with Tonga.

It is also the specialist hub for medical referrals from the islands.

Restrictions eased further

Meanwhile, the government continued gradually lifting its restrictions imposed to prevent the country from the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa announced Wednesday that businesses such as nightclubs, clubs and bars will reopen on Mondays until Saturdays beginning this Monday.

The night-time curfews shall apply from 11:00pm to 5:00am, he said.

All contact sports shall be prohibited.

Strict social distancing measures will continue to be in effect, and the country’s borders remain closed to foreign visitors until June 12.

Restrictions on gatherings have been tough for those mourning the death of a relative or friend, and it has been restricted to a total of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors with an authorised officer to be present throughout.

Indoor gatherings in the kingdom have been limited to a maximum of 50 people and 100 people outdoors except for religious services and education institutions.

All activities and gatherings shall comply with those gathering restrictions and as well as with the Ministry of Health requirements for sanitation and hygiene.

Tonga is still Covid-19 free.