A drill for repatriating Tongans stranded in New Zealand by Covid-19 has been hailed as a success.
Fifty nursing students yesterday played the part of the first 50 Tongan citizens the government hopes to repatriate in July.
For the drill, the students were met on the tarmac at Fua'motu Airport by health officials and police, who guided them to the terminal for the quarantine inspection process.
While observing social distancing protocols, the students retrieved their luggage before being put on buses, which were escorted by police to the quarantine facility at Nuku'alofa's Tanoa hotel.
Soldiers guarded the hotel's entrance as the students were given room keys and a health and safety briefing.
Health Ministry chief executive Dr Siale 'Akau'ola said the objective of the drill was to test the process of receiving repatriated passengers.
"(To) ensure that all the logistics and co-ordination processes are properly in place, and that all officials involved fully understand their respective roles and responsibilities and to also identify gaps in the process," Dr Akau'ola said.
Those repatriated would be tested at designated stations inside the hotel, and would receive the result on the same day or the next, he said.
"If someone is confirmed to have Covid-19, that person will be transferred to Mu'a Health Centre, while suspected cases will be transferred to Taliai Camp. Passengers will be tested again on their day 14 of quarantine before going home to their families."
Tonga's Repatriation Plan Committee said the drill was a success and that another drill would take place before the first repatriation flight.
The first 50 passengers will be selected from an online registry, on which more than 900 people had been registered as of Tuesday morning.
A selection criteria and sub-committee will be established, guided by Tonga's Open Border Policy and Repatriation Plan.