Covid-struck British and Australian navy ships make contactless delivery to infection-free Tonga

Tonga’s government worries that a Covid outbreak could become a bigger catastrophe for island

Sravasti Dasgupta
Thursday 27 January 2022 16:22
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Australian and British aid arrives in Tonga

Ships from Britain and Australia have carried out the contactless delivery of foreign aid to Tonga to protect the Pacific island nation from an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Tonga has remained free from Covid-19 and had reported only one case last year.

It is one of the few countries in the world that has remained largely unaffected by the pandemic.

Foreign aid has been arriving in Tonga from the US, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Britain to help the country after an underwater volcanic eruption on 15 January led to a tsunami that devastated it.

The eruption caused volcanic material to shoot up to 40km above the atmosphere and triggered tsunami waves up to 50ft high in parts of the archipelago, including the country’s main island.

The eruption and the resultant tsunami killed three people and displaced thousands.

The disasters also cut the island nation off from the rest of the world.

On Thursday, British ship HMS Spey delivered aid with cranes without any sailors embarking on the island, the Associated Press reported.

It arrived with 30,000 litres of bottled water, basic sanitation products and medical supplies, including more than 300 first aid kits.

In a statement, James Heappey, the minister for the armed forces, said: “The UK is a longstanding partner of the Pacific islands, and having the ship deployed in the Indo-Pacific meant that we could be there for Tonga in their hour of need, as the island begins to rebuild their homes and communities.”

Tonga’s government remains concerned about accepting foreign aid, amid fears that an outbreak could cause a bigger catastrophe in the island nation.

Concerns grew after 23 members of the crew of the Australian aid ship HMAS Adelaide were reported to be infected earlier this week.

The ship, which left Brisbane on Friday, also arrived early on Wednesday and delivered aid using machines.

Australian authorities also said their ship would deliver aid without disembarking on the island.

Earlier last week, a C-17 Globemaster military transport plane from Australia had turned around mid-flight after a crew member tested positive.

Tongan laws require foreign travellers to remain in quarantine for three weeks upon arrival.

All international aid to the island nation is to be delivered contact-free.

About 61 per cent of its population has received Covid vaccines, according to Our World in Data.

Clean drinking water remains the top priority for aid being sent to the country.

At least 80 per cent of Tonga’s population have been impacted by the volcanic eruption, according to UN humanitarian officials.

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