Panic, containment and rush to vaccinate in Tonga as the first case of Covid is recorded

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Panic, containment and rush to vaccinate in Tonga as the first case of Covid is recorded


By early Monday morning, the normally quiet capital of the Pacific nation of Tonga, the city of Nuku’alofa, was full of cars.

There were long lines outside vaccination centers, as well as banks, outlets and Western Union stores as people rushed to prepare for the small nation’s first proper lockdown.

It came four days after the Kingdom of Tonga recorded its very first case of Covid.

The country of around 100,000 people 2,000 km east of Australia has gone through nearly two years of a Covid-free pandemic, largely by keeping its borders closed to international arrivals.

But after a repatriation flight from New Zealand last Wednesday brought the first case – a young Tongan missionary returning from Australia on a mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Tonga is bracing for the worst .

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The case sent people scrambling.

The government confirmed on Monday that the number of people fully vaccinated rose from around 35% before the first case was confirmed to 62% on Monday, as people who received their first dose but did not return for their second vaccine. rushed to get vaccinated. Eighty-eight percent of people had received their first dose.

“There is certainly more urgency now to get vaccinated,” said Dr ‘Amelia Afuha’amango Tu’ipulotu, Minister of Health.

People lined up outside banks and stores on Monday in the capital of Nuku’alofa as they anticipated the government’s announcement of a lockdown. Photograph: Leki Lao / The Guardian

The government has announced a seven-day lockdown to cover Tongatapu, the main island, with restrictions that will stop public gatherings, stop work except essential services and keep people at home.

But many scared people self-quarantined long before the government’s announcement.

“My husband and I decided to bring in the two girls [aged 14 and 15] vaccinated as soon as possible rather than waiting for their scheduled school appointment. We also made the decision to move immediately to voluntary containment, ”said Ofa Gutteinbeil Likiliki, who works as director of the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC) in Nuku’alofa.

“I thought about my son who has asthma and wanted to get him out of school as soon as possible and my daughters who were in school. Only one had been vaccinated at the time, I wanted to get them out of school.

“I was also shocked that the government took a while to announce what was going on, especially after so much was leaked on social media… [and] that they did not make the decision to close immediately afterwards, especially after what we have seen happening in other countries like Fiji and New Zealand, which are closer to home.

“I have decided that the government announced lockdown can come later, I lock my family on Friday and I urge people to stay at home, wear their masks and be safe,” said Ramanlal Vallabh, who is the president of the Tonga Media Association.

“I was worried because we have the first case of Covid-19 in Tonga and after seeing and witnessing what it has done in places like Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and the United States United of America. “

Meanwhile, more than 200 people who were on board the flight with the infected passenger, as well as all airport staff who were working when the plane arrived, and health workers, are in government-run quarantine. .

Masks, which were not common in Tonga, were commonplace after the first case was announced on Friday. Photograph: Leki Lao / The Guardian

“When we found out, we immediately took action and got the job done. The positive case has been isolated and others have been followed closely, ”said Tuʻipulotu, Minister of Health.

“I just spoke with our doctor, our sister in charge and our first case of Covid-19. They are courageous, caring, humble and respectful. They are doing their best for our first case and all the passengers, ”Tuʻipulotu said.

“I also spoke about our first case and shared my love and compassion for him and his family. “

Announcing the case on Friday, Prime Minister Honorable Dr Rev Pohiva Tuioneto’a said: “We ask you not to panic or be afraid, but to join us in doing the tasks that are before us. entrusted. We are committed to doing our best to continuously share correct and reliable information regarding the response. “

The Prime Minister also called on people not to spread false information “which is false and misleading, as it will affect the confidence and support needed for this important work”.

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