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By ALFRED TUIKORO TORA (Associate Editor)

Utah, USA – May 25, 2020: 5pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Tonga has done well to remain as one of the few countries in the world that is still without COVID-19.

Kudos to the Government for their efforts.

And placing systems that have helped stopped the virus from entering the Kingdom in the last 3 months.

But it is time to move on.

Time to make hard, safe decisions now – to ensure that the local economy does not break.

Businesses need to be opened 24 hours and normalcy must be seen now.

People should be able to move around freely….and the confidence that we are free from the virus should be seen in the activities we do.

It is time the Ministry of Health stands up and be counted.

There are Tongans all over the world who want to return home.

They are prepared to get to Tonga and spend the quarantine period in safe places identified.

Right now some of them are struggling to cater for themselves in places they have been stuck at because they do not have the means to support their needs.

Hon PM Dr Tuioneto’a announcing restrictions and assistance for COVID-19 last month

It is now on PM Dr Tuioneto’a and his team to decide what needs to be done.

It has dragged on for too long.

Pacific neighbours Fiji, Samoa and the Cooks are already returning their people home.

These people are put in quarantine and only allowed out when they are cleared to be free.

Tonga should see what they are doing and plan on doing the same.

But why is it taking government so long to do so?

There are those who went to Australia and New Zealand for work in farms. They want to return home.

There are others studying at the USP Campus in Laucala – especially private students who are paying their own bills.

Who will support them if government continues with the lockdown?

It is not a tough decision to make anymore.

Last month Cabinet set up a Task Force to look into the special flights.

Up to today nothing has come out except comments that there is a plan in place.

What is the plan?

Why is it taking so long?

Who is delaying things?

How soon can we expect special flights?

Where are the quarantine centres?

Questions that needs to be answered.

Yes – we must keep Tonga safe.

However, since the virus is not in Tonga can we look at opening borders for special flights with care?

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand services to Tonga and other Pacific countries such as Fiji, Samoa, Rarotonga, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, could resume to one return service from Auckland per week, if the travel restrictions currently in place around passenger services are lifted, the airline announced today.

Air New Zealand said it will continue to keep air links open for essential travel and cargo movement on key trade routes up to 31 August, amid government travel restrictions and the CoViD-19 outbreak. They have released a new schedule.

It had previously announced a limited international network through to 30 June.

Overall, the airline has seen a 95 percent reduction in international capacity compared to pre-CoViD-19 levels.

Air New Zealand Chief Networks, Strategy and Alliances Officer Nick Judd says the airline continues to keep a close eye on the impact CoViD-19 is having on travel around the world.

“While it’s unfortunate the majority of our international network remains cancelled for the foreseeable future, we support the return of safe flying if borders re-open and will update our international network if and when possible.

“We also support the return of safe trans-Tasman flying when practical. We’re keen to work with government and industry partners on steps we can take to safely support economic recovery through travel and connect family and friends.”

The following schedule will now apply through to 31 August 2020, with a few exceptions which extend beyond this date. All services are subject to change as governments change travel and border restrictions.

Tasman services (per week)

Auckland-Sydney Four return services
Auckland-Brisbane Three return services
Auckland-Melbourne Three return services

Pacific services (per week)

Auckland-Niue One return service

(through until 31 October)

Sydney-Norfolk One return service

(through until 24 October)

Brisbane-Norfolk One return service

(through until 24 October)

Long-haul services (per week)

Auckland-Los Angeles Five return services
Auckland-Hong Kong Two return services

The airline stated that customers affected by these changes are being supported by the airline’s contact centre and customer care team. Customers booked via a travel agent, including a third-party website (e.g. Expedia, Booking.com) should speak with their agent. Customers are urged to check Air New Zealand’s dedicated CoViD-19 information hub, before calling the airline’s contact centre.

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