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Tonga goes into lockdown; COVID cases not at international aid port – official

Randy Mancini 9 Feb 2
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damaged buildings and landscape covered with ash
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

February 2, 2022

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Two COVID-19 cases in wharf workers in tsunami-hit Tonga were at a different wharf to that used by foreign naval ships delivering aid, a Tongan official said, as the previously virus-free nation prepares to go into lockdown on Wednesday to stop infections.

There have been fears an influx of international ships and planes delivering badly-needed water, shelter and food after a devastating volcanic eruption had increased the risk of a pandemic outbreak in the isolated Pacific nation. Tonga had recorded only one previous COVID case.

The Australian navy ship, HMAS Adelaide, was known to have 23 COVID cases onboard when it docked at Vuna wharf last week and offloaded 250 pallets of aid to a quarantine zone.

However Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, told Reuters the two cases were detected at a different wharf and “not the one that the HMAS Adelaide used”.

“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”.

Tongan radio station BroadcomFM reported on Wednesday another three cases had been detected in a family, bringing total case numbers to five.

Tongans queued at shops and banks on Wednesday ahead of a lockdown to start at 6pm, as authorities attempt to stop the spread of COVID.

Health authorities were administering booster shots to the public on Wednesday, with more vaccine booster doses to arrive from Australia and New Zealand. Around 83% of the eligible population have received two doses of vaccine.

In addition to HMAS Adelaide, three New Zealand and one British naval ships, and two Chinese fishing ships from Fiji have come into port and unloaded aid pallets. French, Japanese and Chinese navy ships are also enroute carrying aid.

The Tongan government has insisted on contactless delivery of aid, and all pallets unloaded from aircraft or ships are isolated for 72 hours before being distributed by the local emergency service.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Tongan authorities said the two workers at Queen Salote wharf who tested positive were vaccinated, and it was unknown if they had the Omicron variant.

HMAS Adelaide experienced a power outage while anchored near Tonga, and civilian specialists were being sent from Australia to conduct an assessment, Australia’s defence department said.

Back-up power has been activated to restore essential systems, it said.

Two Chinese navy ships left Guangzhou in southern China on Monday carrying humanitarian supplies and shelter, Chinese state media reported. Two commercial Chinese fishing boats delivered aid to Tonga’s Vuna wharf last week from Fiji.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)