A group of Cook Islands Olympic team members expect to remain in New Zealand until Auckland’s Covid alert level status is relaxed.
13 athletes and officials spent two weeks in an MIQ facility in Christchurch after flying back from Tokyo Games.
The nine based in Rarotonga had been scheduled to fly straight home but by the time they were released New Zealand had gone into lockdown, after the Delta variant was discovered in the community.
President of the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee, Hugh Graham, said eight of them are staying with family in the Auckland region, while he has set up base at an airport hotel.
“I can walk through the hotel. I can go down and talk to the staff. They’ve got a big carport area – I go outside and walk around there about three or four times a day,” he said.
“I’m trying to convince them to allow me to use they’ve got a small gym, which is ample for what I’d use it for, but they’re a bit cautious because there’s other guests here, which I’ve only seen one so far.”
Graham has family in Auckland but said their households were already full during during lockdown and he didn’t want to add to the congestion for what could be an extended period.
A friend has dropped off some groceries to his hotel but, after with no oven on hand he admitted his offerings have been far from gourmet.
“There’s a microwave and just a kettle with hot drinks,” he said of his culinary options.
“Team Cook Islands had a real cheap toasted sandwich maker that we took to Tokyo with us – it wasn’t used. It was in my bag so I’ve got it with me, so sandwiches – I know how to make about five different types of toasted sandwiches (laughing).”
Middle distance runner Alex Beddoes is no stranger to lockdowns. The Rarotonga based runner also got caught out last year when he decided to move home from Melbourne during the original Covid outbreak.
“When I hit Auckland, Auckland went into Level Four Lockdown as well so it’s not the first time around for me.”
Beddoes is staying with his grandmother in East Tamaki and was grateful he could once again keep her company during the uncertainty.
The 26 year-old shaved more than half a second off his 800m national record in Tokyo and joked the lockdown was at least good for one thing.
“It’s kinda funny that because literally all I could do was run, so I probably ran the most I’ve ever run in my life during that lockdown and it’s probably what made me run so well this year, so it’s kind of funny the way it works.”
The Olympic team members have been staying in touch with each other via a group chat, and everyone is waiting patiently for information on when they can return home.
“We’ve provided all out details to our New Zealand High Commission, Liz Wright Koteka in Wellington,” Graham explained.
“So that as soon as our government is ready and satisfied that things are ok here then obviously a repatriation flight would be in order for all of us Cook Islands – not just Team Cook Islands but all Cook Islanders who unfortunately have been stranded here since the lockdown.”
He said the Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown, has also indicated plans for a repatriation flight will ramp up when the alert level in Auckland is reduced.
“What I understand is going to happen is that as soon as lockdown (level) four is relaxed our government back home in association with our health department there will look at the best time to have us repatriated back to Raro.”
In the meantime, Beddoes is trying his best to keep occupied while counting down the days until he can return home.
“I do watch the updates at 1 o’clock (from the New Zealand government),” he confessed.
“Sometimes it’s a bit hard because it’s not exactly positive at the moment but it is what it is. I’m kind of just waiting but I’m kind of using the down-time to do other things.
“I’m still training. I’m not working at the moment, I’m doing some stuff online back home – like I’m applying for a few jobs back home. I’m still studying at the moment so just kind of all that other stuff I’m kind of just sorting out.”
The New Zealand government confirmed on Monday that Auckland would remain at level four for at least two more weeks.
Even if they can hop on a plane by mid-September, the Cook Islands delegation face another stint in managed quarantine upon their arrival in Rarotonga and might not be able to reunite properly with their friends and family for at least another month, and perhaps into October.
Graham said businesses in the Cook Islands will also be doing it tough right now and, while everyone wants to get home, the New Zealand and Cook Islands Governments are doing the right thing.
“The thing that I’m sorry about is obviously the bubble between New Zealand and Rarotonga,” he said.
“Obviously it’s deja vu for a lot of our accommodation establishments back home having to suffer again but, hey, it can’t be helped.
“The last thing we want is for Covid to hit Rarotonga, the Cook Islands.”