Three new covid-19 cases in Tonga as kingdom enters lockdown

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A #VForVaccinated banner in Tonga
A "V for #Vaccinated banner" in Nuku'alofa yesterday. Image: Tongan Ministry of Health/RNZ Pacific

By Finau Fonua and Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalists

Three new covid-19 cases have been confirmed in the kingdom of Tonga bringing the total number to five as the country went into a five-day lockdown.

In a press conference in Nuku’alofa yesterday afternoon, Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku said that a woman and her two children had tested positive for the virus.

The latest transmission comes less than 24 hours after two men were confirmed to have contracted covid-19 yesterday.

The two men were port workers and are currently now confined in isolation at Taliai Camp, a Tongan military base.

The pair had been collecting emergency supplies from foreign aid ships arriving in Tonga and were among 50 frontline workers who had been tested for the virus.

The prime minister did not reveal which ships the men had collected supplies from, leaving the source of the transmission open to speculation.

Nuku’alofa harbour is reportedly full of supply ships laden with aid, including the Australian  ship HMAS Adelaide, which had confirmed before arriving in Tonga that 29 of its crew were in isolation on board after testing positive for covid-19.

Source of virus unclear
Tonga’s Parliamentary Speaker, Lord Fakafanua, told RNZ Pacific today that it was not clear how the two men contracted the virus.

Tonga's Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku
Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku … Image: Koro Vaka’uta/RNZ Pacific

He said that the covid-19 outbreak could not have happened at a worse time with covid-19 restrictions interfering with much needed aid deliveries.

The kingdom is still in the early stages of recovery from the devastating Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption and tsunami, that left hundreds of Tongans homeless and properties damaged last month.

“The Prime Minister has reassured me this morning that the aid that is currently being distributed in Tonga will continue, the work that His Majesty’s Armed Forces is doing on the ground will continue under the lockdown because they are an essential service,” Lord Fakafanua said.

The Speaker of the House, Lord Fakafanua
Tonga’s Speaker Lord Fakafanua … “The aid that is currently being distributed in Tonga will continue.” Image: Koro Vaka’uta/RNZ Pacific

The country is polluted with volcanic ash that has fouled water supplies and carpeted the land with dust.

Two weeks after the disaster, telecommunications are yet to be re-established in most of Tonga, with no outsiders being able to make mobile or phone calls into the Vava’u and Ha’apai group of islands.

Lord Fakafanua also said there were worries about a potential covid-19 outbreak in Vava’u, as a close contact of one of the new covid-19 cases in Tonga had visited Vava’u over the week.

Contact tracing stepped up
The government has stepped up contact tracing measures in order to ring fence community transmission of covid-19.

Lockdown rules in Tonga will require everyone to remain at home, to practise social distancing, and to wear face masks in public.

Essential workers are exempted from restrictions of movement, such as Red Cross and aid distribution personnel, who would be allowed to operate freely.

According to Tonga’s Ministry of Health, more than 83 percent of the population of the eligible population (over the age of 12) have been fully vaccinated.

Exactly 73,938 people (over the age of 12) have been vaccinated at least once, representing 96 percent of those eligible for testing.

The Tongan government said at last night’s press conference that the lockdown would be reassessed 48 hours after its enforcement.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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