Nuku’alofa – September 9, 2021: 9.35am (Nuku’alofa Times): Government has confirmed that repatriation of Tongan nationals (and residents) from Fiji is currently suspended due to the high risk of COVID-19 delta variant entering into Tonga.
This was in response to calls and claims by Tongans in Suva who said that government has forgotten about them.
Both The Fiji Times in Suva, who had ran the original story, and the Nuku’alofa Times had asked for responses from various officials of the government of Tonga, including Minister Poasi Tei, Chief Executive Officer Paula Ma’u and Chief Secretary to Cabinet Edgar Cocker.
A statement from the National Emergency Management Committee, chaired by Minister for Emergency (MEIDECC) Hon Poasi Tei said the Government of Tonga cannot allow the delta variant to enter Tonga nor take on this high-risk exercise at this point in time.
He said the stranded Tongan nationals in Fiji, both in transit and students, are being supported by the Tongan Government with living allowances.
“At this stage, the suitable strategy for those intending to return home is to get vaccinated. The Government of Tonga’s National Emergency Management Committee (NEMC) continues to assess and review the situation in Fiji whilst aiming for the vaccination coverage in Tonga to attain around 70% by the end of the year,” the statement said.
The statement also clarified that the Air Vanuatu flight which arrived in Tonga on 26th August 2021 brought in 14 Chinese nationals who were based in Vanuatu since June 2021. They were approved by the Government of Tonga to implement a development project and they fulfilled the strict requirements dictated by health criteria before entry into the Kingdom of Tonga; a country that is still COVID-19 free.
“Persons who have resided for more than 14 days in a COVID-19 free country such as Vanuatu, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu or Nauru – can enter Tonga on direct flights,” the statement said.
“Flights from COVID-19 transmission locations such as Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia are presently postponed based on assessment(s) by the NEMC.”
Tonga has a strong desire to repatriate all 2,608 Tongan nationals and residents who are currently stranded overseas. Those stranded in places such as Fiji which are considered hot spots for COVID-19 transmission (especially delta variant) are unfortunately affected due to the suspension of flights (to date). Once the target of 70% COVID-19 vaccination coverage is achieved, the Government of Tonga would be in a position to revise its Repatriation plan.
The Government of Tonga takes is very seriously protecting the Kingdom from COVID-19 entering the country. As one of the few remaining countries in the world to still being COVID-19 free, Tonga takes all measures to ensure that its nationals are given safe passage to the Kingdom without compromising the safety and lives of Tongans in the country.
The Government of Tonga also takes this opportunity to extend sincerest gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Fiji, and the people of Fiji, for the tremendous support rendered, and assistance received, during this difficult time.