31 Oct 2021

Covid-19: Frontline workers who met NZ flight now in MIQ - Health CEO

10:18 pm on 31 October 2021

Close to 300 people are in now managed isolation in Tonga after the discovery of the Kingdom's first positive Covid-19 case.

The positive case arrived in Nuku'alofa on a repatriation flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, and while he is asymptomatic, he is being cared for alone in a special quarantine facility in Mu'a.

The CEO of Tonga's Ministry of Health, Dr Siale Akau'ola said the remaining 214 passengers are in MIQ at the Tanoa Hotel while about 80 frontline workers who met the flight are also in MIQ at the Kupesi Hotel.

Chief executive of Tonga's Ministry of health Dr Siale Akauola.

The CEO of Tonga's Ministry of Health, Dr Siale Akau'ola. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Christine Rovoi

"But of course because of the limited human resources we have we are aware that if we keep on quarantining staff and keeping people out of providing services we may run out of staff." Akau'ola said.

He said that's a risk we are looking at but for the time being we are acting swiftly to ensure there is no community transmission.

"As a further safety precaution, all staff working at the quarantine and managed isolation facilities must remain onsite for the duration of the 21 day quarantine period, Akau'ola said.

Confirmation of positive case

Dr Akau'ola said the positive case was diagnosed on the 28th of October, following the flight on the 27th from New Zealand.

"We applied the normal procedures that would be required for a first case in Tonga, so this is the first time we are implementing measures we have been practising for a while now."

And, of course, thankfully, the case was identified while he was in quarantine, as all passengers coming into Tonga are required to be in quarantine for 21 days.

The positive case has been shifted to a different quarantine facility while the rest of the passengers who travelled with him are still under surveillance at the hotel they are staying in.

The positive person is fine, he's asymptomatic. He hasn't complained of anything, and is looking well so far. Of course, we are also relieved to know that he had been fully vaccinated before he left New Zealand.

We understand that the people who have been close to him in Christchurch are also well, so far.

"Because this is our first case, we are deploying staff to look after the passengers on the flight from New Zealand."

At the same time, we are also paying special attention to our frontline workers, who worked at the airport during the arrival of the aircraft, and we are trying to manage this as best as we can.

"We are of course managing the messages we are delivering to the public, to ensure that people are aware of what's going on," Akau'ola said.

But I think otherwise, we are we are doing okay in Tonga, and things pretty much under control. We are keeping Cabinet informed of all developments.

"In relation to testing those in managed isolation, our normal routine is to test them within 24 or 48 hours on arrival, and then we test them again on day 14, the last time we test them will be on day 20, before they leave quarantine on day 21, that's if everything is okay," he said.

"We will have confirmation of the variant once we send the test over to New Zealand which will be on Wednesday," Akau'ola said.

Mu'a special quarantine facility

Tonga's first positive Covid-19 case is now isolation at the Mu'a community clinic outside the capital, Nuku'alofa.

Speaking from Nuku'alofa, Dr Viliami Puloka, who's been supporting the Covid-19 vaccine rollout there, said the quarantine facility in Mu'a village where the Covid-19 patient is now being cared for has been specially prepared, should there be any positive Covid-19 cases in Tonga

"Mu'a village and the Covid-19 quarantine facility are well set up to isolate and care for positive Covid-19 patients," Puloka said.

Tanoa Hotel

Tanoa Hotel Photo: Tanoa Hotel

Puloka said there's been some shock and a little panic after the passenger from New Zealand tested positive for Covid-19.

"There's a bit of panic and people just don't believe that it's finally got here. I think more of them are disappointed that they say you know our record of being Covid free is now spoiled rather than people are afraid that it can happen to them.

High turnout for vaccinations after Covid-19 case confirmed

Thousands of people flocked to vaccination sites in Tonga, Friday night and Saturday following news of a Covid-19 positive case in a passenger who arrived in Tonga from Christchurch on October 27.

"Yesterday afternoon after the announcement of our one case, people were coming to the vaccination sites, so it was very exciting to see that," the Minister of Health, Dr 'Amelia Tu'ipulotu, told Matangi Tonga Saturday morning at the Queen Salote Memorial Hall vaccination site, that was packed with people.

Tonga Minister of Health Hon Dr 'Amelia Tu'ipulotu and Acting Health CEO Dr Reynold 'Ofanoa. Vaiola Hospital, Tongatapu

Tonga's Minister of Health, Dr 'Amelia Tu'ipulotu Photo: © Matangi Tonga

She said the high turnout Friday night and Saturday will boost the national coverage among the eligible population.

"More people are coming forward because now we have coverage of first dose of about 86 percent and a second dose of about 62 percent, so this is a major turnout today and will boost the overall coverage of first and fully vaccinated."

"We are doing our best, as we have done in the past, and our team are fully committed at the front line to better protect the Kingdom," she said.

The Minister of Health thanked New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for the donation of the Pfizer vaccines that arrived on 20 October, which would protect the youth of Tonga and vulnerable pregnant women.