Tonga is one of few countries that has not been affected by the disease. Like many of its neighbors, Tonga’s isolation has helped keep it safe but it faces big challenges should the virus take hold due to its under-resourced health system.
Fiji was a neighboring nation and had not experienced any major epidemics until April. The delta virus infected over 50,000 people on the islands chain. At least 673 were killed.
Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa said in a radio address that the traveler was among 215 passengers who had arrived on a flight from the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Wednesday and had been isolating at a quarantine hotel.
According to Matangi Tonga, the prime minister was expected to announce Monday any further lockdowns.
Christchurch was immune to the virus for many months, until last week when it became apparent that four cases had been reported by the community. This happened after an infected returning resident contracted the virus while visiting Auckland. The outbreak began August and has continued since then.
Officials in New Zealand confirmed that the Tonga traveler had been fully vaccinated against the Pfizer vaccine. They also reported that the negative test was returned before they left for Tonga. Officials said they will be working closely with Tongan counterparts in order to confirm and share more details over the next few days.
Tongan Health Ministry chief executive 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.
’Akau’ola 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. All those who were working around the plane had also been given vaccines.
Tonga, located northeast of New Zealand is home to approximately 106,000 people. According to Our World in Data, 31% are fully vaccinated in Tongans and 48% have received at least one dose.