An Australian assistance aeroplane was forced to return to base due to a positive COVID-19 case onboard, a defence official said on Friday, as aid arrives in Tonga, which has been devastated by a volcano explosion and tsunami.
The news: Tonga is COVID-free and has a rigorous border control policy, requiring contactless aid delivery, which began on Thursday via plane.
- The Australian aid flight left Brisbane on Thursday afternoon but was turned around mid-flight after being informed of the positive COVID-19 case.
- Prior to departure, all members of the crew had negative fast antigen tests, but PCR tests later revealed a positive result. The goods were transferred to a flight that left on Friday.
- Last Saturday’s eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano generated a tsunami that wrecked towns, resorts, and many structures, disrupted communications for the nation of around 105,000 people, and spread shockwaves and tsunami across the Pacific.
- Authorities have reported the deaths of three people.
- Tongans are still battling to locate safe drinking water even a week after the eruption, with their island houses engulfed in volcanic ash.
What’s going on: First-aid flights from Australia and New Zealand arrived in Tonga on Thursday, bringing much-needed water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, as well as shelter, communication equipment, and power generators.
- On Friday, the HMNZS Aotearoa, a New Zealand maritime sustainment vessel carrying 250,000 litres of water and capable of producing 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant, is slated to arrive.
- The HMAS Adelaide, en route from Brisbane, is scheduled to arrive in Tonga next week.
What they’re saying: Tonga has requested immediate help, according to UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, who said the agency is in close communication with the authorities.
- “Most portions of the country have been assessed, including remote and isolated islands,” Dujarric said.
- “We are still concerned about 50,000 people in the country who do not have access to safe drinking water. Water testing is still going on, and most people are using bottled water,” he stated.
- Damage to crops, animals, and fisheries caused by ashfall, saltwater intrusion, and the threat for acid rain has impacted 60,000 people, according to Dujarric.
- He also mentioned that there are reports of fuel shortages.
- Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Friday that cash donations to Tonga for immediate humanitarian supplies – of which Australia has given $1 million – would need to be followed by more substantial rebuilding assistance.
In addition: Tonga’s phone lines to the rest of the world were reconnected late Wednesday, but full internet connectivity is likely to take a month or more to restore.
- Tongans have taken to social media to share photographs of the tsunami’s devastation and recount their horror following the enormous explosion.
The force of the explosion was estimated to be five to ten megatons of TNT, or more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb unleashed on the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the close of World War Two, according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.