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Disaster-hit Tonga to Enter Snap COVID-19 Lockdown


A general view shows damaged buildings and landscape covered with ash following the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tongatapu, Tonga, January 16, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media.

Tonga went into COVID-19 lockdown on Wednesday as it recovers from last month's devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami waves. The Pacific archipelago has reported two cases of coronavirus after previously recording just a single infection last October.

Two dockworkers handling humanitarian aid in Tonga have tested positive for COVID-19.

The international relief effort is like no other as Tonga recovers from one disaster while trying to avoid another. It has strict "no-contact" protocols that act as a barrier to prevent transmission of the new coronavirus from foreign navy ships and aircraft to the Tongan people.

But those defenses appear to have been breached, and the Pacific archipelago will go into lockdown for at least two days starting Wednesday. Australia's navy vessel HMAS Adelaide unloaded supplies last week despite a coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 20 of its crew. Britain, France, New Zealand and the United States have also been delivering essential supplies.

Tongan journalist Marian Kupu told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that two infected port staff had worked closely with aid shipments.

"We are talking about people who are there on firsthand when we have ships or aircraft coming into Tonga offloading cargoes. And also, they are the frontline, they are the person, first contact with anything landing here in Tonga. We just need to protect their identity while they work on trying to find or to trace where they have been in the past few days," Kupu said.

Tonga has a population of just over 100,000. It closed its borders in early 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe.

Since then, the island nation has diagnosed just one case of COVID-19, in a man who returned from New Zealand in October last year and has since fully recovered.

The volcanic blast 65 kilometers north of the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa was one of the biggest recorded in decades, generating massive tsunami waves and blanketing the island nation in toxic ash. Three people died.

The United Nations said last week that drinking water remained the main challenge facing Tonga.

An undersea communications cable that connects the archipelago to the rest of the world was damaged in the volcanic eruption.

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