Tonga has had no COVID-19 infection, until now

Young men play a game of rugby at sunset in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, April 10, 2019. (MARK BAKER / AP)

MANILA / MELBOURNE / ISLAMABAD – For almost two years, the Kingdom of Tonga has watched on as COVID-19 spread to almost every corner of the world, except its own. 

On Friday, that remarkable virus-free streak came to an end when Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’ionetoa said the country of some 100,000 people had found its first confirmed COVID case, local media reported. 

The infection was in a passenger on a plane from Christchurch, New Zealand, about 2,400 kilometers southwest of Tonga

The infection was in a passenger on a plane from Christchurch, New Zealand, about 2,400 kilometers southwest of Tonga. The person is in mandatory hotel quarantine, but was among 215 people on the aircraft, website Matangi Tonga said. The government will decide whether to call a nationwide lockdown on Monday, given the potential exposure of other people on the plane. 

Tonga is one of a few island nations in the South Pacific Ocean that have seen no COVID cases, with their relative isolation and limited international travel links proving an advantage as the pathogen spread around the world. The Cook Islands has also had no infections, despite its travel industry and close association with nearby New Zealand, which recently went back into lockdown after a months long virus-free stretch.

READ MORE: Pacific islands no longer spared pandemic's force

Other nations in the isolated region have seen significant virus outbreaks, however, with Papua New Guinea experiencing a significant recent wave that has challenged its limited healthcare system. Fiji, one of the South Pacific’s most popular tourist destinations, has also been hit, with more than 670 fatalities since the pandemic began.

Customers dine outdoors at Opera House Bar in Sydney, Australia, Oct 28, 2021. (BRENDON THORNE / BLOOMBERG)


Australia will now recognize people who have had a mix of recognized COVID-19 vaccinations as fully inoculated, according to updated advice on the Department of Home Affairs website. 

The policy shift come as the government prepares to open its borders for the first time in 19 months. From Monday, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents age 12 and over will be able to travel abroad without a permit.

Fully vaccinated international travelers will also be able to fly into to Sydney or Melbourne without quarantining on arrival, providing they have a negative COVID-19 test before their flight. Inbound travel will initially be limited to returning citizens and residents.

“Australia considers you to be fully vaccinated if you have completed a course of a Therapeutic Goods Administration approved or recognized vaccine,” according to an update on the department’s website. “This includes mixed doses.” 

Meanwhile, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city which has endured nearly nine months of lockdowns since the start of the pandemic, saw people flocking to shops and gigs for the first time in months on Saturday as public health curbs eased.

The city of five million, which re-emerged from its sixth lockdown last week, was reopening further as full vaccination rates across Victoria state, of which Melbourne is capital, was set to reach 80 percent for those 16 and older.

People queued at malls and boutiques despite cool weather for their first in-person shopping since early August, waiting to be let in as capacity limits were observed, television footage showed.

Victoria reported 1,355 new daily COVID-19 infections, its lowest in nearly a month. There were also 11 deaths reported, with health authorities saying serious infections mainly affected the unvaccinated.

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"So please – particularly for those people in their 20s – go out and get vaccinated, that is your best and in fact, your only real protection against the impact of COVID," Jeroen Weimar, Victoria's COVID-19 response commander, said.

Across Australia, New South Wales reported 236 new cases and three deaths. The Australian Capital Territory reported nine new infections.

New Zealand

New Zealand had 160 new cases, most of them in Auckland, which has been battling an outbreak of the Delta variant for months.

Once champions of a COVID-zero strategy of managing the pandemic, both Australia and New Zealand have been moving towards living with the virus through extensive vaccinations, as the Delta variant has proven too transmissible to suppress.

As of Saturday, 74 percent of eligible people in New Zealand were fully vaccinated and 76.8 percent of those 16 and older in Australia.


The Philippines' Department of Health reported 4,008 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Southeast Asian country on Saturday, bringing the  tally to 2,783,896.

Another 423 patients died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the toll to 43,044.


Pakistan added 658 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center said on Saturday. The country's infection tally rose to 1,272,345.

Another 10 people lost their lives to the coronavirus, taking the toll to 28,439.