13 Jul 2020

Tongans banned from airport as repatriations begin

3:33 pm on 13 July 2020

Tongan residents have been temporarily banned from entering Fua'amotu International Airport.

They're also barred from the Tanoa International Dateline Hotel as the kingdom's first repatriation flight is expected to arrive today from Fiji.

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Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood

The flight is to bring home more than 50 residents who had been stranded in Fiji amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

They are among over 7000 Tongans understood to have been stranded overseas by pandemic border restrictions.

The military will help police guard both venues in Nuku'alofa while the ban, which began this morning, runs until Wednesday 29th of July.

Incoming passengers are to remain at the Tanoa for 14 days before being tested for the coronavirus and then released if cleared for covid.

Only people with jobs and services deemed essential are exempted from the ban.

A statement announcing the ban was co-signed by Police Commissioner Steve Caldwell and Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier Lord Fielakepa.

Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu'i'onetoa told Kaniva News last week the flight from Fiji was expected to bring some medical staff and their families as well as Tongan students in Fiji.

Tu'i'onetoa said the repatriation flights from New Zealand would start no later than the first week of August.

Tonga has remained free of the virus so far.