The Tongan government ordered a weeklong lockdown for the main island Tongatapu, which includes an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew with residents told to stop work and stay inside their homes for all but essential reasons, according to the health ministry.
Public transport will be halted, restaurants, bars and clubs will close, schools and churches will also shut their doors and social distancing will be enforced.
The restrictions may sound heavy handed for a nation with only one confirmed Covid case, but until a few days ago, Tonga was one of only a small number of countries not to report a single Covid infection since the virus was detected in late 2019.
Tonga is a Polynesian country of more than 170 South Pacific islands and home to about 100,000 people. It’s a remote archipelago that lies about 800 kilometers (497 miles) east of Fiji and 2,380 kilometers (1,480 miles) from New Zealand.
That’s why when a passenger who had traveled from New Zealand tested positive last Wednesday, it spurred thousands of people to get vaccinated and prompted warnings from officials to expect pandemic restrictions.
The infected traveler arrived in Tonga having flown from Christchurch on a repatriation flight, according to New Zealand’s Health Ministry. The passenger was fully vaccinated, had tested negative in New Zealand prior to the flight’s departure, and was discovered among travelers staying at a hotel used for managed isolation and quarantine for new arrivals into the country.
“It’s better we just identify it as positive now and go into lockdown as a precaution, rather than to regret it later when its too late.”
The other 214 passengers on the flight tested negative on arrival and are completing a 21-day quarantine, the online news site reported.
Following the news of the positive case, thousands of people rushed to vaccination centers to get their Covid shots, Matangi Tonga reported.
Tonga’s Minister of Health ‘Amelia Tuʻipulotu reportedly said the high turnout over the past few days will boost the nation’s vaccination coverage.
As of October 25, 31.7% of the population had been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.