The Tonga government has ordered a week-long lockdown of the main island of Tongatapu, which includes an 8pm-6am curfew that includes residents stopping work and leaving their homes only for essential reasons, according to the health ministry.
Public transportation will stop, restaurants, bars and clubs will close, schools and churches will also close, and social distancing will be enforced.
The restrictions may seem harsh for a country with only one confirmed case of the virus, but until a few days ago, Tonga was one of the few countries not to report a single infection since the virus was discovered in late 2019.
Tonga is a Polynesian country of more than 170 islands in the South Pacific Ocean and is home to about 100,000 people. It is a remote archipelago located 800 kilometers east of Fiji and 2,380 kilometers from New Zealand.
Like other Pacific island nations, Tonga’s first measures by declaring a state of emergency in March 2020 and closing its borders to foreigners protected it from the outbreak of the pandemic that could have devastated the country. Approximately 22.1% of the population lives below the national poverty line and medical facilities and equipment are limited.
That’s why when a passenger who traveled from New Zealand tested positive last Wednesday, it prompted thousands of people to get vaccinated and issued warnings from officials about the pandemic’s potential restrictions.
The infected traveler arrived in Tonga after arriving from Christchurch on the return flight, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Health. The passenger was fully vaccinated, tested negative in New Zealand prior to flight departure, and was detected among travelers staying in a hotel used for controlled isolation and quarantine of new arrivals into the country.
“The reason may be that this person has been fully vaccinated and the virus is struggling to grow, or that this person has had COVID-19 before,” local media Matangi Tonga quoted Health Ministry Executive Director Sialle Akola as saying.
“It is better to take it positive now and limit ourselves as a precaution, than to regret it later, when it is too late.”
The online news site reported that another 214 passengers on the flight tested negative upon arrival, completing a 21-day quarantine.
After news of the positive case, thousands of people rushed to vaccination centers to receive vaccinations against the coronavirus, Matangi Tonga reported.
Tonga Health Minister Amelia Tuipuluto reportedly said the high turnout in recent days will increase vaccination coverage in the country.
As of October 25, 31.7% of the entire population has been vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.