By Eleanor Gee
Tonga is lifting a restriction to allow the repatriation of more than 300 passengers from New Zealand and Vanuatu next week.
Changes to the protocols for repatriating stranded passengers to Tonga were outlined by the new Minister of Health, Hon. Dr Saia Piukala this morning, January 14, and include repatriation from countries with covid-19 in the community.
Changes to repatriation protocols for Tongans and others stranded abroad were outlined by the Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Saia Piukala this morning, January 14, at Vaiola Hospital.
“We have our family overseas wondering when they will return to Tonga,” he said. “It’s been almost two years since covid-19.”
One of the policies they are in the process of changing is to require that passengers are only allowed to come to Tonga from countries without covid-19 community transmission.
“We have decided to lift this restriction and that is why the committee and the government have agreed to the repatriation flight from New Zealand on January 20. Even though there is community transmission there, the covid-19 cases have dropped in New Zealand.
Although there are new cases with the new Omicron variant there, the Minister said that these cases were at the border or in quarantine facilities, which “will help reduce the risk of covid-19 to enter Tonga”.
Another new protocol is that passengers must self-quarantine at home for a week before travelling.
“Although there is no one to watch them, I think it is important for those in New Zealand who want to return to follow the protocol advice they have been given.”
Passengers should be tested for covid-19, 48 hours before the flight and if the test is positive “this person will not be able to board the flight to Tonga”.
In addition, passengers must be fully vaccinated (with two doses) to covid-19 years before they can be repatriated to Tonga.
People are also not allowed to buy alcohol at the airport to catch the flight, however, the minister said they can buy alcohol using their boarding pass when they finish their journey. quarantine period in Tonga.
About 300 passengers are expected to arrive from New Zealand next week on January 20 and eight from Vanuatu on January 18.
There are two flights from Vanuatu, a charter flight with six passengers and a small surveyor flight with two passengers.
Hon. Dr Piukala said work was underway to also organize a repatriation flight from Samoa.
He added that because the covid-19 The situation in Vanuatu and Samoa is similar to that of Tonga, the quarantine time for returnees from these countries will be reduced to two weeks “to be on the safe side”.
Meanwhile, the government remains cautious in organizing repatriation flights from countries increasingly covid-19 cases.
“Repatriation flights from Australia and Fiji have been canceled due to the spread of the new Omicron variant in their communities,” he said.
Stranded in Fiji
For those stranded in Fiji, the minister said they were working on a safe way to repatriate them.
“We are planning for a working group from the Ministry of Health to work with the SPC [Pacific Community], it is Fiji’s focal point, to seek the safest way to repatriate those stranded in Fiji.
“There are passengers who have been stranded there since last March and April and I can understand the impact on them mentally and the anxiety they have to come back, but it is our responsibility, the Ministry of Health and the government, to ensure that we can repatriate them in the safest way possible.”
The Minister also stressed the importance for the people of Tonga to be vaccinated against covid-19 to better protect themselves and their families covid-19 reach Tonga.