COVID-19 in the Cook Islands
Since May 12, 2020, the Cook Islands in the South Pacific upheld a no-entry policy by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) as a means of protecting the citizens from the then-novel Coronavirus. As a result of this implementation, the Cook Islands largely managed to evade the rapid worldwide spread of COVID-19. With a population of only 17,459 people, it was imperative to protect such a small percentage of the world’s population. Recently, the Cook Islands’ COVID-free streak has ended with its first potentially alarming COVID-19 case in nearly two years.

The First Official Case

On February 13, 2022, the Cook Islands received news of a COVID-19 infection from a visiting traveler. However, this is not the first time that there was COVID-19 in the Cook Islands. Someone returning to the Cook Islands in December 2021 tested positive. This did not pose much of a threat as the individual managed to quarantine without any other exposure. However, the infectiousness of COVID-19 is concerning to the Cook Islands. Prime Minister Mark Brown addressed the situation by stating that “It is likely that the person … was infectious while here and further likely that the virus is in our community.”

Issue of Silent Transmission

Since January 3, 2020, the Cook Islands has only had four COVID-19 cases with zero mortalities. As of February 19, 2022, the country administered 36,399 vaccine doses. Unlike previous iterations of the COVID-19 virus, the Omicron variant is about 2.7 to 3.7 times as infectious as the Delta variant. Given that the traveler did not test positive until returning to their home country, there was a large question of who was infected through their contact with the individual and who was not. As such, COVID-19 in the Cook Islands became all the more elusive and alarming.

Poverty in the Cook Islands

While the Cook Islands’ isolation proved to be relatively effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and in keeping its citizens safe, the nation was not without struggle. The Cook Islands greatly rely on tourism as its main channel of revenue and a rigid no visitors policy coupled with a worldwide shut down of travel caused poverty to become more of an issue for the nation’s population.

A 2020 Global Volunteers article stated that “30% of people in Rarotonga [the largest of the islands] live under the national poverty line.” As people lost their jobs, there was a struggle of relocation for those living in poverty. Select populations believed that the government wage subsidy of around 61 million NZD and other programs that include sending suites of credit initiatives to individuals or businesses wouldn’t be enough to support their families. This caused a lot of people in the Cook Islands to move to New Zealand to look for more suitable jobs.

An RNZ article profiled one man who is staying in the Cook Islands because of agricultural heritage. Tino Tatau’s plants “used to supply resorts, markets, weddings, and functions,” but the slowed revenue made this harder. Evidently, there is this conundrum of relocating or abandoning one’s home.

Even as the spread of COVID-19 slows, there is still a great incentive to boost the economic stability of the Cook Islands through stimulus packages and agencies similar to the Pacific Humanitarian Team providing health services to those who may not be able to access them. Established in 2008 by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Pacific Humanitarian Team initiated the Humanitarian Response Plan to aid 14 Pacific countries. The Pacific Humanitarian Team emerged to grant an immediate health response and provide marginalized farmer households with food and access to certain medication in one instance.


As previously mentioned, the Cook Islands’ percentage of its vaccinated population is playing a significant role in the virus’ slow spread. A Washington Post article stated that “the nation’s Health Ministry [reports that] 98% of the population 12 and older has received at least a first vaccine dose, with 96% having received two doses and 67% getting a booster shot.” The nation will continue to follow a rigorous implementation of policies to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Cook Islands, such as masking, and a push for booster shots and regular testing.

Maia Nuñez
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hunger In The Cook Islands
A Brief History

The Cook Islands are made up of a combination of 15 different islands, reside in the South Pacific ocean and have a population of 15,000 people who practice their unique language and diverse culture — a habit that many tourists enjoy. The country has over 100,000 visitors each year which significantly contributes to the country’s economy. Tourism paired with the abundant natural resources in the region has led to the decrease in hunger in The Cook Islands.

Hunger In The Cook Islands

Although hunger in The Cook Islands is not as widespread as in other developing nations and many citizens have access to their daily caloric needs, malnutrition is still a huge issue for the citizens of this country. Financial hardship due to a lack of education for many people in The Cook Islands has led to residents making food choices which often leads to malnutrition.

The cheapest foods in The Cook Islands are often the foods which can get caught in the wild or bought at a local market using little income. Fish acts as a staple food product due to its abundance in the South Pacific oceans.

A 2007 United Nations study states that The Cook Islands possess 133 commercial fisheries, 3,939 offshore fisheries and 5 freshwater fisheries. These practices have led to an abundance of fish in the country.

The issue, though, is that since fish are often the only food residents of The Cook Islands can purchase, they suffer from malnutrition that stems from a lack of micronutrients. Although fish can act as an excellent source of protein and omega three fatty acids, the human diet requires numerous other micronutrients to function properly. These micronutrients include Vitamins A, B6, B12, C and many others.

Although fish can provide the calories needed to sustain a human, it cannot provide the micronutrients required for optimal bodily conditions.

The Takeaway

Hunger in The Cook Islands does not appear to be an issue and for many living in this country, this perception is correct. The abundance of fish in The Cook Islands can provide the needed micronutrients required for humans daily caloric intake. The issue with relying solely on fish for one’s caloric needs is that fish cannot provide all the essential vitamins and minerals required for a human.

Hunger in The Cook Islands may not be as much of an issue, but malnutrition stemming from a lack of vitamins and minerals is. Organizations such as the United Nations conduct studies on what the people of The Cook Islands eat to allow people to understand that even though they are eating, they continue to suffer from preventable diseases caused by malnutrition. This information is imperative to solving the issue of malnutrition in The Cook Islands.

Nick Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr

Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a sovereign island nation in free association with New Zealand. The main island, Rarotonga, is home to 70% of the nation’s estimated 17,800 people. Rarotonga is a small island, measuring approximately 26 square miles, with only one airport to accommodate its primary source of income: tourism.

Tourism constitutes more than half of the nation’s GDP and is the main stimulant of economic growth. However, it also contributes to the growing problem of waste management in the Cook Islands.

Waste collection is provided to all households Monday through Saturday by two private contractors operating in conjunction with the Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI). Businesses are responsible for disposing of their own waste in the sanitary landfill located in Avarua, the most populous district of Rarotonga and the nation’s capital.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand, along with support from the private sector, provide aid to improve the conditions of waste management in the Cook Islands. The Waste Management Facility, managed by ICI, employs three staff members at the landfill and another five at the recycling center. The sanitary landfill was designed in 2006 with an intended lifespan of 15 years but has now reached its capacity.

Avarua is also home to four operational incinerators used to burn garbage, two of which are used solely for airline waste and medical waste and none of which possess emissions control technology. In addition, open burning in backyards and public spaces is a common practice amongst Cook Islanders.

This is a problem, as open burning and the resulting emissions can be detrimental to human and environmental health. Open burning has been proven to emit significantly more harmful pollutants than municipal incinerators, releasing twice as many furans, 17 times as many dioxins and 40 times more ash, as well as carbon monoxide and dioxide, lead, arsenic, mercury, acid vapors and carcinogenic tars.

This not only because is there no emission control, but because open fires burn at lower temperatures, inhibiting complete combustion of the waste being burned. They also operate closer to the ground, increasing the risk of exposure to harmful effects.

Tourism is a major contributor to the abundance of refuse which has made it exceedingly difficult to control in the Cook Islands. However, the income generated from tourism is needed to stimulate the growth of the waste management system. After all, the standard set for tourists has been the principal catalyst for discussion over the development of waste management in the Cook Islands. The government is looking to break this waste cycle by improving facility quality.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr