Tonga has extended a lockdown in parts of the country, including the capital, until Feb. 20, amid a growing coronavirus outbreak that started among aid workers helping the Pacific island nation recover from a volcanic eruption and tsunami last month.
The country recorded its 35th case of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the office of the prime minister, Siaosi Sovaleni, said. Since the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted on Jan. 15 and the aid deliveries began, Tonga has recorded 34 cases. Its sole recorded case before that had been in October last year, in a quarantined visitor.
Tongan officials declared a countrywide lockdown on Feb. 2 after two workers who were helping to distribute aid shipments at the Tongan wharf in Nukuʻalofa, the capital, tested positive for the virus.
Residents of Tongatapu Island, which includes Nukuʻalofa, and of Vavaʻu District, remain under a stay-at-home order with no access to public transportation and a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. In the other parts of the archipelago, the lockdown has been lifted, the local news site Matangi Tonga reported on Sunday.
Tonga’s disaster recovery has been complicated not only by a growing Covid-19 outbreak but a severed internet connection. Repairs to the cable might not be completed until the end of next week, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Tonga’s main government website appeared to be down Wednesday evening.
To help restore the island nation’s internet connection, a team from Elon Musk’s SpaceX has arrived in Tonga to install antennas that connected to the company’s satellites, an official in neighboring Fiji said.
“The Hunga Tonga volcano’s shockwave shattered Tonga’s internet connection, adding days of gut-wrenching uncertainty to disaster assessments,” Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s attorney-general, tweeted. “A SpaceX team is now in Fiji establishing a Starlink Gateway station to reconnect Tonga to the world.”
With the internet down and schools suspended, the Tongan Ministry of Education will broadcast home-schooling programming by radio to continue until the lockdown ends, the Tongan government said.
Tonga will also distribute 20,000 paʻanga, or $8,800, in relief assistance to Tongatapu and 10,000 paʻanga, or $4,400, to Vavaʻu, as well as 100 paʻanga, or about $44, to each household to help with power bills, the government added.
Tonga has fully vaccinated 88 percent of its population of about 107,000, and given booster shots to more than 2,000 people, according to official data. On Saturday, 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be administered as booster shots were scheduled to arrive. And the United Nations children’s agency said that it had provided 15,000 rapid antigen tests to Tonga.