19 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Evacuation of Tongan athletes in China under way

1:03 pm on 19 February 2020

Fifty-one Tongan athletes stranded in China due to the coronavirus outbreak are expected to arrive in the United Kingdom this week.

(200127) -- BEIJING, Jan. 27, 2020 (Xinhua) -- Aerial photo taken on Jan. 26, 2020 shows the Yellow Crane Pavilion and the Yangtze River Bridge in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province.

Photo: AFP

The table tennis and boxing teams were the first of four groups to be evacuated on Sunday, while the swimming and weightlifting teams are scheduled to depart China on Tuesday afternoon.

The acting deputy head of sport for the kingdom, Eva Mafi, confirmed the teams would stay in London for two weeks under the care of Tongan officials.

"They are [in] self-isolated quarantine so it's more like they are staying in hotels or the venues they arrange in England for them to stay and the doctors - our Tongan doctors - and some of the England officials will look after them," he said.

"If they are all clear, the first load will come home to Tonga on the seventh of March, and the second lot will arrive on the seventh."

Ms Mafi said the long wait for arrangements to get the teams back home have left family members anxious but the ministry was keeping them informed and they would be updated further on Wednesday.

He said the parents were relieved that their loved ones had finally been able to leave China.

After they are cleared, they will head back to Tonga via Dubai and Singapore, and are expected to arrive home in Tonga in the first week of March.

There are still Tongans studying in China, as well as 26 others including some who work at the Tongan Embassy with their families.

The Chinese Ambassador in Tonga, Cao Xiaolin, advised it would be better for those Tongan nationals to stay in China as they could be better protected there, and avoid having to be held up in other ports due to travel restrictions.

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