Tonga Faces Lockdown After First COVID Case Detected

Prime Minister Pohiva Tuionetoa says the South Pacific nation of 106,000 could be locked out next week if the infection spreads.

Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tuionetoa warned on Saturday that residents of the country’s main island, Tongatapu, are facing a possible shutdown next week after registering their first COVID-19 case.

The small Pacific kingdom had been among the few countries to escape the virus so far, and the infection was detected in a person in controlled isolation after returning to Tonga on a repatriation flight from New Zealand.

“The reason the shutdown will not occur this weekend is because I have been informed that it will take more than three days for the virus to develop in someone who contracts it before it becomes contagious,” Tuionetoa said.

“We should use this time to prepare in case more people are confirmed to have the virus.”

Most of Tonga’s population of 106,000 lives in Tongatapu and less than a third have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Health officials said the person who tested positive had received his second stroke in mid-October.

The repatriation flight included members of the Tonga Olympic team who had been stranded in Christchurch since the Tokyo Games. The athletes were fully vaccinated before leaving for the Olympics.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health confirmed that the infected person had tested negative before the flight left Christchurch, where there are only four known cases of COVID, all in the same household.

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