Tonga was one of only a few countries that had not reported a single Covid 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 traveled from New Zealand.
The infected traveler 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 travelers 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 centers to get their Covid 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. like a church group or a cultural group, and they’ve made a collective decision not to vaccinate, it’s very difficult to go against the grain because that’s your support system, that’s your family,” said Luke, who lives in Auckland.
Tonga is a Polynesian country of more than 170 South Pacific islands and home to about 100,000 people. The archipelago lies about 800 kilometers (497 miles) east of Fiji and 2,380 kilometers (1,480 miles) from New Zealand.
Though it hasn’t reported a Covid 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 outbreaks that could have devastated the country, where 22.1% 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 Nauru are among the only countries in the world not to have reported a Covid infection. Turkmenistan and North Korea have also not officially reported any cases, though experts say those claims are unlikely to be true.
The same week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care for Covid-19, two studies came out identifying obesity as a significant risk factor for serious illness and death. It was April 2020, and doctors were scrambling to understand why coronavirus gave some people mild symptoms and left others so sick they were gasping for air.
A volunteer at a drive through vaccination event last month in Auckland, New Zealand. Hannah Peters / Getty Images
Experts say efforts to vaccinate Maori against Covid-19 have been most successful when they are led by respected members of the community. In Te Whanau a Apanui, a Maori community on the North Island, more than 70 percent of residents had been fully vaccinated even before the August outbreak, said Dr. Rachel Thomson, a general practitioner at the local health clinic.
Thomson said the clinic worked with the community, including the local tribal council, to inoculate selected members of each of the 13 hapu, or subtribes, who then spread the word to others.
If Maori nationwide had been “empowered to provide a service to their own early,” she said, “we would be in a better position.”
Last week, Florida boasted a COVID-19 case rate lower than California’s — in fact, among the lowest in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was a surprising development, considering Gov. Ron DeSantis’ very public resistance to vaccine mandates and non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing masks.
Some partisans were quick to jump on the news as evidence that broad public health measures are unnecessary to stop the pandemic. But case rates are only a part of the picture of the impact COVID-19 has had on communities — and data shows that Floridians have suffered more from the coronavirus than residents of most other states.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Florida has counted 277 deaths for every 100,000 residents — the seventh highest rate in the nation, according to data from the CDC. By comparison, California, has had 180 deaths per 100,000 people, still a tragic loss but a measure of the state’s relative success in combatting the disease. California’s cumulative death rate ranks 36th on a list including all 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia and Guam.
“More people are coming forward because now we have coverage of first dose of about 86% and a second dose of about 62%, so this is a major turnout today and will boost the overall coverage of first and fully vaccinated,” Tuʻipulotu said, according to Matangi Tonga.
After Johnson recovered, he became vocal about the role he believed his obesity had played in his brush with the virus: “When I went into ICU, when I was really ill … I was way overweight,” he said.