Tonga, an island nation roughly 3,100 miles southwest of Hawaii, reported its first case of covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to New Zealand’s Stuff news outlet. The covid-positive person arrived on a flight from New Zealand and is reportedly in hotel quarantine, hopefully ensuring the disease doesn’t spread throughout the community.
Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa announced the covid-19 case on Friday and explained the unnamed person had arrived on a flight from Christchurch, New Zealand on Wednesday with 215 people.
Tonga, much like other countries in the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, requires that people arriving internationally quarantine in hotels before they can travel freely within the country. In this case, that requirement has likely saved Tonga from widespread disease. The person arriving from New Zealand tested positive on Thursday while in quarantine at the Tanoa International Hotel.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health told Stuff that the person who tested positive on Thursday had tested negative before they departed from Christchurch. The unnamed person was also fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine and received their second dose about two weeks ago. The case is actively under investigation, according to Stuff.
The covid-19 vaccination rate in Tonga is just 31.7%, which is much higher than some South Pacific neighbors like Papua New Guinea which has vaccinated less than 2% of its population, but less than most wealthy countries. The U.S. covid-19 vaccination rate currently sits at a stubbornly low 58%, while other wealthy countries are around 70% fully vaxxed. Canada, for example, has a covid-19 vaccination rate of 74.2% and the UK is 67.9% fully vaccinated.
An immunologist in New Zealand warned Stuff that the results could be terrible if the case imported into Tonga isn’t properly contained.
“Tonga has been one of a group of countries within the Pacific region that has managed to protect its people by keeping the virus out of the country for so long,” New Zealand’s Dr. Dianne Sika-Paotonu told Stuff.
“If this case is not contained, the potential consequences for the Tongan nation will be catastrophic.”