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How to get aid safely to Tonga without Covid
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Tonga: zero-Covid island nation fears aid will bring virus

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  • Tonga Volcano and Tsunami
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New Zealand and Australian military planes bring aid

As humanitarian aid arrives in Tonga following a volcanic eruption and tsunami, the international effort is complicated by the need to protect the country from the coronavirus.

An Australian warship en route to the South Pacific island nation has recorded around two dozen positive cases on board and will now continue in a ‘Covid-secured’ manner.

Tonga is effectively Covid-free, with only one case of infection reported last October, and the government has stressed the need for contactless aid to keep the virus out.

What is contactless help?

“In Tonga, emergency supplies are sent but not staff and strict Covid protocols are followed when delivering,” said Aaron Davy, of the Council for International Development, New Zealand.

“Even when working on the broken communication cable at sea, the work is done without personal contact with the local population. »

Aid agencies also provide remote assistance – such as coordination expertise – but local authorities and community groups manage the response on the ground.

“We have staff and partners in the country and we can plan with them and support them without entering Tonga,” said UNICEF Resident Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, Jonathan Veitch.

“We helped vaccinate the whole country, so [contactless delivery] Is doable.

“But eventually we may need Wash (water, sanitation and hygiene) or reconstruction specialists to intervene – and then we will have to settle safe quarantine measures with the government. »

How to get aid safely to Tonga without Covid
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New Zealand Navy ships carried out contactless delivery of vaccines

Has this already been done?

Yes, there have been a number of contactless operations in the region during the pandemic.

New Zealand delivered vaccines to Pacific island nations by warship, then on helicopters or inflatable boats, before handing them over remotely to ground teams.

Strict safety protocols – such as wearing protective clothing – prevented any possible transmission.

Crew members also received special training on how to handle vaccine boxes during transfer.

Non-contact methods were also used to distribute relief in Vanuatu, following Cyclone Harold, in April 2020.

Foreign aid workers were banned from entering the country and planes carried aid supplies that had been disinfected and quarantined for three days.

“Covid has forced a change in the way aid is delivered and this more localized approach is working,” says Mr Davy.

“Not only have we avoided the transmission of Covid [in Vanuatu] but we were able to support them by providing resources and funds directly to people in the country who knew how best to respond. »

How to get aid safely to Tonga without Covid
 | Breaking News Updates

Deadly tsunami in Tonga

  • VOICE: Even the dogs were covered in ash – Tonga resident
  • VISUAL GUIDE: How the volcano’s impact spread so widely
  • ANALYSIS: Scientists explain the ferocity of the explosion
  • VIDEO: A giant eruption captured by satellites
  • HEALTH: Warnings about the danger of volcanic ash
How to get aid safely to Tonga without Covid
 | Breaking News Updates

How did Tonga achieve zero Covid?

Tonga has effectively closed its borders to international travel.

All commercial flights to Tonga are suspended and departure options are also strictly limited.

Only Tongan citizens and permanent residents, as well as travelers approved by the Ministry of Health can enter, on occasional repatriation flights, then must quarantine for 21 days upon arrival.

Goods entering the country must also be quarantined.

About 60% of Tonga’s 105,000 people have been fully immunized.

And it has maintained strict internal restrictions since the start of the pandemic, including nighttime curfews and limits on gatherings.

How to get aid safely to Tonga without Covid
 | Breaking News Updatessource of images, Reuters
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International aid agencies reportedly follow strict protocols when delivering humanitarian aid

Why is Tonga so worried about Covid?

Tonga is made up of over 170 islands and its economy relies heavily on overseas tourism.

The remoteness of some of these island communities, many of which have limited health resources, makes them particularly vulnerable to an outbreak.

People also fear that the lack of exposure to the virus means low immunity among the population.

Historical experience also plays a role.

When the Spanish flu reached Tonga a century ago with the arrival of a ship carrying sick passengers, the infection spread rapidly.

It is estimated that up to 8% of the population died from it.

In the 18th century, other diseases, such as measles and dysentery, were also introduced by outsiders, destabilizing the small island society.

Related Topics

  • Coronavirus vaccines
  • Tonga Volcano and Tsunami
  • Humanitarian aid

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