Frontline staff worried by orders to go home rather than move to quarantine facilities immediately after Covid-19 case detected

Frontline staff at Fua’amotu International airport are concerned at the orders they were given in the wake of the discovery of a Covid case on a flight from Christchurch.

Air New Zealand aircraft at Fua’amotu International airport. Photo/Kalino Lātū

The positive person was one of 215 people who arrived in Tonga on a repatriation flight from Christchurch on Wednesday.

Some airport staff including those who first boarded the plane in Tonga after it arrived said they were concerned after they were told to go home and not to the MIQs after the plane from Christchurch left Tonga on Wednesday night.

They were told to take a Covid test on Thursday, but it was cancelled. On Friday, the day Tonga acknowledged its first Covid case,  they were called again to have their test done at 1pm.

The frontliners said they were really concerned because they had their tests after they had  already mixed and mingled with their family and members of the community. After having their test done on Friday they were told to stay home and self isolate there. Some frontliners said they had just done their test this evening Saturday at 8,30pm before they were told to quarantine at the Kupesi hotel MIQ.

It is understood they wore full personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout the whole unloading process.

The Ministry of Health’s CEO, Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola said frontline staff should be safe because of the time needed for the virus to grow.

A female staffer who works for the Customs Department and was working on the night the flight arrived in Tonga left for Ha’apai island yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Talakeiola Club at Haveluloto told its members via its Facebook page, to avoid coming to the club until further notice because one of their members was a frontliner who was isolating in the club. It said he had been taken to the Kupesi hotel MIQ.

The frontliner’s unease has been shared by ordinary people who think the government has taken the kingdom’s first Covid case too lightly.

Tonga is currently in restriction mode, which includes a curfew. The Covid case should have moved the country to another level, but this has not happened.

Today a big celebration was held at Tonga College commemorating the school’s 139th anniversary.

Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa told a press conference that he was advised the virus would take more than three days to develop in somebody who caught it before they became contagious. For this reason the country would not move into lockdown this weekend.

However, Hon. Tu’i’onetoa  said people should use the time to get ready in case more cases were confirmed. Tonga may go into lockdown next week.

The delay has worried some people who said the virus may already spread in the community, especially frontline workers. They said Tonga should have gone into lockdown on Friday straight after the case was detected to protect the country while those who were close contacts and frontliners were monitored closely.

The infected person is still in isolation at the Tanoa Hotel in Nuku’alofa where passengers from the flight are in managed isolation for 21 days, but is expected to be moved to another facility.

Christchurch flight

Most of the passengers on the flight from Christchurch were seasonal workers and most of the Tongan Olympic team.

All the people on the flight from Christchurch were required to have negative Covid tests prior to departure.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health said the positive case was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, and had their second dose on October 15.


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