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National Lockdown: Tongans ordered to stay at home for week

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Empty Nuku'alofa CBD. Tonga's one week national lockdown came into force at 1:00am Sunday 29 march 2020.

Tonga's national lockdown starting at 1:00am this morning, March 29, means that everyone must stay at home, except for services that are designated essential.

In Nuku'alofa church gates are locked, and the streets are empty and peaceful, in a coronavirus preventative measure that will be in force for at least one week.

CoViD-19 could be devastating in Tonga, where there are no confirmed cases to date, and authorities want to prevent it from spreading here.

This morning Police and the army were patrolling Nuku'alofa, stopping and warning the drivers of very few vehicles who ventured out.

Severe fines and even imprisonment can be imposed on people who flout the Health Emergency lockdown, ordered last week by the Prime Minister's National Lockdown Notice under the Emergency Management Act.

Incoming passengers

Tonga invoked a Public Health Emergency Order on March 13, and the Declaration of an Emergncy Notifiable Condition.

This was followed by the declaration of a State of Emergency on 20 March.

The declarations gave government more power to enforce efforts to prevent or minimize the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (CoViD-19) within Tonga.

CoViD-19 tests

Authorities became concerned that incoming passengers returning home to Tonga from countries where the virus was spreading might introduce CoViD-19 to Tonga. All flights were diverted from March 23 and effective to Sunday 5 April.

The last flights came into Tonga on March 21 and specimens of eight Passengers were forwarded to Australia for testing. Six were reported negative, but the results from the other two were awaited when the lockdown notice was intiated.

On Friday afternoon the results of the final two tests came back negative.

All other passengers were expected to self-isolate for 14 days, but it became clear that a few were not isolating themselves effectively.

Authorities warned that it is vital for Tonga to do all what it can to stop CoViD-19 from entering the country.

The nation is accustomed to quiet Sundays, because Sabbatical laws ensure that all business activity ceases. But now all but essential services will remain closed for the week until 1:00am Sunday 5 April.

Locked down. Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, Nuku'alofa. Sunday 29 March, 2020.

What lockdown means

No flights, cruise ships or yachts may come into the country. Citizens are this week will be severely restricted in their movements.

All persons shall be required to isolate at home unless for the purpose of purchasing or supplying essential consumer goods, obtaining medical supplies or seeking medical assistance, access to banking and financial services.

  • Night time curfews will apply from 8:00pm to 6:00am to be enforced by Tonga Police and His Majesty's Armed Forces.
  • All domestic public transportation will cease, except for those exempted.
  • All bars, restaurants, clubs, bottle shops and liquor manufactures will be closed.
  • All licensed businesses and activities shall be closed except supermarkets and reatil shops selling essential needs.
  • All public facilities and gatherings are prohibited.
  • Funerals are restricted to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors with an authorised officer to be present.

People who work in essential services, as specified by the order, may attend work. These include essential staff from the Ministries of Health, Police, Civil Aviation, Marine and Ports, telecommunications oeprators, Tonga Water Board and Tonga Power, news media, and security services.

The order also includes a list of other sectors who may go about their work including specified Government Ministries, statutory bodies and public enterprises and resident diplomatic posts along with development programme staff, health providers, natonal and local government, food processing, maintenance and repair services, some accommodtion services, among others.

Hand washing

The WorldHealth Organisation stresses the importance of hand washing, even in the most difficult of circumstances:

Hand washing in areas with no running water - how to build a tippy tap
AFRO video, March 26