Mark Baker / AP
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The island nation of Tonga reported its first case of COVID-19 on Friday after a traveler from New Zealand tested positive.
Tonga is among the few remaining nations in the world that have avoided outbreaks of the virus. Like many of its neighbors, Tonga’s isolation has helped keep it safe, but it faces major challenges should the virus take hold due to its underserved healthcare system.
The nearby nation of Fiji avoided significant outbreaks until April when the Delta variant broke the island chain, infected more than 50,000 people and killed at least 673 people.
Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa said in a radio address that the traveler was one of 215 passengers who arrived on a flight from the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Wednesday and isolated themselves in a quarantine hotel.
Mark Baker / AP
According to news website Matangi Tonga, the prime minister planned to make an announcement on Monday about future lockdowns.
Christchurch was free of the virus for months up to this week when four cases were reported in the community after a returning resident caught the virus in Auckland, where an outbreak has been increasing since August.
New Zealand health officials said the traveler to Tonga was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and returned a negative test before leaving for Tonga. Officials said they would work with their Tongan counterparts to confirm the case and provide more details in the coming days.
The managing director of the Tongan Ministry of Health, Dr. Siale ‘Akau’ola said it was unfortunate that the plane left Christchurch before the news of the cases there in the community, Matangi Tonga reported.
‘Akau’ola said all frontline staff, including health workers, police officers and airport staff on duty when the plane arrived, have also been quarantined after the positive case was confirmed. He added that everyone who worked near the flight had been vaccinated.
Tonga is northeast of New Zealand and has a population of around 106,000. According to the research group Our World in Data, about 31% of Tongans are fully vaccinated and 48% have received at least one dose.