Tonga was one of only a few countries that had not reported a single COVID-19 case since the start of the pandemic.
But on Friday, Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa confirmed its first positive case from a passenger who had travelled from New Zealand.
The infected traveller arrived in Tonga on Wednesday having flown from Christchurch, 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 travellers staying at a hotel used for managed isolation and quarantine for new arrivals into the country.
Tu’i’onetoa said all airport staff who were in contact with any of the passengers on the flight have been quarantined and he warned Tongans to prepare for a potential national lockdown following the case, according to news website Matangi Tonga.
“We should use this time to get ready in case more people are confirmed they have the virus,” he reportedly said.
Following the news of the positive case, thousands of people rushed to vaccination centres to get their COVID-19 shots, Matangi Tonga reported.
Tonga’s Minister of Health ‘Amelia Tuʻipulotu said the high turnout over the past few days will boost the nation’s vaccination coverage.
“More people are coming forward because now we have coverage of first dose of about 86 per cent and a second dose of about 62 per cent, so this is a major turnout today and will boost the overall coverage of first and fully vaccinated,” Tuʻipulotu said, according to Matangi Tonga.
Tonga is a Polynesian country of more than 170 South Pacific islands and home to about 100,000 people.
The archipelago lies about 800 kilometres east of Fiji and 2,380 kilometres from New Zealand.
Though it hasn’t reported a COVID-19 case until now, the island nation declared a state of emergency in March 2020 and shut its borders to foreign nationals.
Like other Pacific island nations, Tonga’s early action protected it from COVID-19 outbreaks that could have devastated the country, where 22.1 per cent of the population live below the national poverty line and medical facilities and equipment are limited.
But the strict travel measures have severely impacted the economies of Pacific island nations, especially those that rely on tourism.
The Pacific nations of Tuvalu and Naura are among the only countries in the world not to have reported a COVID-19 infection.
Turkmenistan and North Korea have also not officially reported any cases, though experts say those claims are unlikely to be true.