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Health to evaluate procedures before second repatriation flight

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Ministry of Health CEO Dr Siale 'Akau'ola and Minister for Health, Hon Dr 'Amelia Tu'ipulotu at a press conference. 20 July 2020.

Tongan health officials will cautiously assess procedures around the first repatriation flight including quarantine, and ensure issues are addressed before the second repatriation flight arrives in Tonga.

At a press conference today, 20 July, the Minister for Health, Hon Dr ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu said they would evaluate the effectiveness of the processes, procedures, and activities that were undertaken, and also look at what gaps need to be addressed before the second mission.

“Although the evaluation will be undertaken after the 14 days quarantine, Dr 'Ofanoa and his team also currently undertakes daily assessments and addresses issues as they arise," she said.

Ministry of Health CEO, Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola said the most important thing is that Tonga remains CoViD-19 free.

“Even though repatriating our people back is slow, every step has to be confirmed. These little steps can put us at risk. The work that Dr Reynold’s team does is very important.”

Health officials are also looking at Pacific neighbours to see how they are handling their repatriation missions, such as Samoa.

Dr ‘Akau’ola perceived that Samoa is struggling to accommodate large groups of repatriated citizens.

“Samoa’s accommodation is full of repatriated citizens. So, when the Samoan seasonal workers were returned they were taken to a big hall where they are all staying. All of them.”

“I feel Samoa is struggling. I hope we will not reach the same level, where we can’t properly control the situation. We need to be ready to properly repatriate our people. That’s just my observation on our Pacific neighbour.”

New Zealand pushing

He said New Zealand is pushing for the Pacific Islands to repatriate their people but they should also recognize that we are preparing properly and that the Pacific Islands are CoViD-19 free, and should let countries prepare properly.

He suggested large groups (such as seasonal workers) should be split into smaller groups.

“We need to be ready to accommodate them where they will fit. Not a large bubble but small bubbles, such as six people.”

Quarantine costs

Cheaper quarantine options for repatriated passengers are also being looked at, as the government is currently paying for all costs.

“The accommodation is the costly part,” said Dr ‘Akau’ola. “In New Zealand, repatriated passengers now have to pay for their own quarantine.”

He added that Tongans who are repatriated at a later stage may have to contribute to quarantine costs. These costs still have to be looked at and calculated.

Repatriation flight from Solomon Islands

Discussions are still underway on using a Fiji Airways aircraft to repatriate Tongans from the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu but nothing has been confirmed.

Dr ‘Akau’ola said repatriated passengers will still have to undergo testing and spend 14 days in quarantine just to be sure, even though these countries are CoViD-19 free.

- By Eleanor Gee.