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Tonga calls for lockdown after wharf workers test positive for COVID

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damaged buildings and landscape covered with ash following the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Kanokupolu, Tonga, January 23,2022. Tonga Red Cross Society/Handout via REUTERS MANDATORY CREDIT/File Photo

Tsunami-hit Tonga claimed two wharf employees contracted COVID-19, causing the previously virus-free country to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday. However, the waterfront workers were not on docks where foreign warships were delivering relief.

The news: After a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, there were fears that an inflow of international ships and planes providing desperately needed water, shelter, and food might raise the possibility of a pandemic epidemic in the isolated Pacific nation. Only one previous COVID case had been reported in Tonga.

  • When the Australian naval ship HMAS Adelaide moored at Vuna port last Thursday and offloaded 250 pallets of supplies to a quarantine zone, it was known to have 23 COVID cases onboard.

What they’re saying: Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, said that the two instances were discovered at a different port than the one used by the HMAS Adelaide.

  • “The wharf that had the case is a different one used for commercial cargoes,” he said.
  • The delivery of aid would not change as a result of the COVID cases, he said, adding, “frontliners will need to be more careful”.
  • The Chief of Joint Operations of the Australian Defence Force, Greg Bilton, stated that it did not appear that the HMAS Adelaide was the source, and that samples from the two dock workers will be transferred to Australia for testing to determine the origin of the COVID strain.
  • “I don’t think there’s any connection, there’s no evidence of that,” he told Sky News.

What’s going on: On Wednesday, Tongan radio station BroadcomFM reported that three more instances had been discovered in a household, making the total number of cases to five.

  • Tongans lined up outside stores and banks on Wednesday, anticipating a lockdown that would begin at 6 p.m. as officials attempted to contain the spread of COVID.
  • On Wednesday, health officials began giving booster shots to the public, with more vaccine booster doses arriving from Australia and New Zealand.
  • Around 83 per cent of those who were eligible for the immunisation received two doses.
  • Three New Zealand and one British naval ships, as well as two Chinese fishing ships from Fiji, have arrived in port to offload assistance supplies.
  • Navy ships from France, Japan, and China are also on their way to deliver supplies.
  • The Tongan government has mandated contactless assistance delivery, with all pallets unloaded from planes or ships being quarantined for 72 hours before being dispersed by the local emergency services.

Tongan authorities claimed during a press conference on Tuesday that the two workers at Queen Salote port who tested positive had been vaccinated, but it was unclear whether they had the Omicron variant.

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