Tonga Closes Schools, Restaurants After Traveler Brings First COVID Case to Nation

Tonga reported its first case of COVID-19 on Monday, causing lockdowns across the country's main island and the closure of schools and restaurants, the Associated Press reported.

The main island of the country east of Australia will go into lockdown for a week after a traveler from New Zealand tested positive for COVID-19 and isolated at a quarantine hotel.

Tongan Prime Minister Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa said the lockdown would start after midnight on Tuesday and apply only to the island of Tongatapu, where a majority of the country's people live.

The lockdown will close schools, bars and restaurants and also enforce a nighttime curfew for citizens to stay home and isolate. A stay-at-home order was also put in place, encouraging people to isolate themselves and their families. Citizens are allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, such as if they are buying groceries or medicine, accessing banking services or receiving medical help.

The Tongan Cabinet ordered the lockdown and regulations to "ensure the safety and health of our people," according to the news website Matangi Tonga.

The visitor arrived on a flight with 215 other passengers from Christchurch on Wednesday. Christchurch has been free of COVID-19 cases for months until last week, when several were reported.

Tonga's frontline workers, including the airport staff, health staff and police officers who were on duty when the plane arrived with the infected visitor, have also been put into quarantine and health monitoring.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tonga reports first COVID Case
Tonga reported its first case of COVID-19 on Monday, causing lockdowns across the country’s main island and schools and restaurants to close. Above, a pig wonders around a house in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, on April 7, 2019. Mark Baker/Associated Press

News of the case has prompted hundreds of Tongans to line up at vaccination sites around the country. About 31 percent of Tongans are fully vaccinated and 48 percent have had at least one dose, according to research group Our World in Data.

New Zealand health officials said the traveler to Tonga was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and had returned a negative test before leaving for Tonga.

Tonga is among the few remaining nations in the world that have avoided outbreaks of the virus due to its isolation.

The nearby nation of Fiji avoided significant outbreaks until April, when the Delta variant ripped through the island chain, infecting more than 50,000 people and killing at least 673.

Located northeast of New Zealand, Tonga is home to about 106,000 people.