Tonga enters lockdown after reporting its first ever Covid case

The prime minister has urged people not to spread wrong information

Maroosha Muzaffar
Monday 01 November 2021 10:33
<p>File: A shopkeeper waits for business in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in April 2019.  The island nation of Tonga has reported its first-ever case of Covid-19, Friday 29 Oct 2021 after a traveler from New Zealand tested positive</p>

File: A shopkeeper waits for business in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in April 2019. The island nation of Tonga has reported its first-ever case of Covid-19, Friday 29 Oct 2021 after a traveler from New Zealand tested positive

Panic has gripped the small Pacific Island nation of Tonga which announced a snap lockdown after it reported its first ever Covid-19 case since the pandemic broke out two years ago.

The government announced that the main island will lock down for a week and the rest of the country — Tonga is a 169-island archipelago in the Pacific Island with a population of just about 106,000 people — for three days, the local media reported.

The small nation registered its first-ever coronavirus case last week, after a traveller from New Zealand tested positive for the virus.

The tourist, it was reported, has been isolated at a hotel.

Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa announced that the week-long lockdown in the main island will begin just after midnight on Tuesday.

He was quoted as saying by news agencies that this move was meant to “ensure the safety and health of our people.”

Matangi Tonga, a local news website, reported that the schools, bars, restaurants will stay closed during the lockdown. It reported that people who need to buy groceries, medicine, or access healthcare or banking services shall be allowed.

Meanwhile, the island nation’s health minister Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola was quoted as saying that the Tonga’s first Covid-19 case is a “weak positive” case. The traveller had arrived from Christchurch on 27 October.

The other 214 passengers on the traveller’s flight have all tested negative, the health ministry said on Monday.

Dr ‘Akau’ola said that the first Covid-19 case of the country was tested at least thrice. He said that he tested negative on Monday before boarding the flight in Christchurch on 27 October and then tested positive after arriving in Tonga.

“It could be due to this person being fully vaccinated and the virus is struggling to grow, or this person had contracted Covid-19 before,” he said.

He added that “it’s better we just identify it as positive now and go into lockdown as a precaution, rather than to regret it later when it’s too late.”

He shall be tested again on Friday, 5 November, it was reported.

At least 31 per cent of Tongans are fully vaccinated and 48 per cent have had at least one dose of their Covid-19 vaccine.

New Zealand’s health officials have said that the person who travelled to Tonga was fully vaccinated. He had tested negative for the virus before boarding the flight to the island nation.

The 214 other passengers on the flight from Christchurch to Tonga have been quarantined. Health ministry officials said that their second Covid-19 tests shall be conducted half way through their quarantine stay.

Matangi Tonga reported that their third and last tests shall be done on the last day of their 21 days of quarantine.

Tonga has been among a handful of nations that have avoided the Covid outbreak due to their isolation.

The island nation of Fiji avoided any “significant” outbreaks until April when the Delta variant infected more than 50,000 people and killed at least 673.

The Guardian reported that there was panic across Tonga. It quoted Ofa Gutteinbeil Likiliki, the director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) in Nuku’alofa, as saying that “my husband and I decided to get the two daughters [aged 14 and 15] vaccinated ASAP rather than wait for their scheduled school one.”

The prime minister has asked people not to “panic or be afraid but that you stand together with us to carry out the duties given us. We pledge to do our best to continuously share correct and reliable information regarding the response.”

He also urged people to refrain from spreading any “wrong information.”

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