Tonga reports first Covid case since start of pandemic

The island nation of Tonga has reported its first case of Covid-19 after a traveller from New Zealand tested positive.

Tonga has been among the few nations in the world to have avoided an outbreak of the virus. Like many of its neighbours, its isolation has helped keep it safe, but it faces big challenges should the virus take hold given its under-resourced health system.

Nearby Fiji avoided a significant outbreak until April, when the Delta variant infected more than 50,000 people and killed at least 673.

Tonga’s prime minister, Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, said in a radio address that the traveller was among 215 passengers who had arrived on a flight from the city of Christchurch on Wednesday and had been isolating at a quarantine hotel.

He said he planned to make an announcement on Monday about any future lockdowns, according to Matangi Tonga news website.

Christchurch had been free of the virus for months until this week, when four community cases were reported after a returning resident was infected while in Auckland, where an outbreak has been growing since August.

New Zealand health officials said the traveller to Tonga had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and had returned a negative test before leaving for Tonga. They said they would be working with their Tongan counterparts to confirm the case and provide more details in the coming days.

The CEO of Tonga’s health ministry, Dr Siale ’Akau’ola, said it was unfortunate the plane had already left Christchurch before the news came of the community cases there, Matangi Tonga reported.

He said all frontline workers including health staff, police officers and airport staff who were on duty when the plane arrived had also been put into quarantine after the positive case was confirmed.

Tonga is home to about 106,000 people, of whom about 31% are fully vaccinated and 48% have had at least one dose, according to the research group Our World in Data.


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