By Paul Karalus, Tofoa.
If feasts, fasts and prayers are seen as keeping us safe from CoViD-19 in Tonga, perhaps Easter Sunday, on April 4, can be seen as a time for Resurrection, not only of Jesus Christ but also of our communities to new heights of spiritual thanksgiving and our livelihoods to newly productive and sustainable endeavours.
It will be a full year from the closing of the border and the imposition of various stages of lockdowns, curfews and quarantining of people and goods. It is time to prepare for the “new beginning”, the new life. This day of great joy is less than 100 days away, so what needs to be done to make for a “truly loving and productive” caring for our people?
Testing and tracing
Firstly, the constant maternal diligence and vigilance of the health authorities needs to continue but with an added emphasis on testing to keep CoViD-19 out, and on tracing should CoViD-19 finally reach Tonga - and let us expect that it likely will -but let us be ready for it!
Let us be humbly grateful for the success in maintaining our health. Let us also be grateful for the efforts of the police, the military, the schools and the social services in ensuring the safety and security of our community. Let us also be grateful for the wider agencies of Government in assisting those who have suffered from the loss of employment or who continue in reduced employment. To this be added our gratitude for the generosity of the international agencies, the WHO, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
But, with Easter approaching, it is now time for Health, and the entire Government, to show a fatherly role in posing new and safe ways to get everybody back in employment by providing for those here and for those abandoned abroad.
Secondly, the neighbourly generosity of New Zealand, Australia, the United States and the other countries, that have provided refuge for many of our people “stuck” overseas as well as budgetary support, be suitably thanked.
And even more so now, given New Zealand’s generous offer of vaccines for all our people. This must be welcomed, accepted and hastily shaped to open an “sky bridge” between our two countries. To vaccinate the entire 100,000 of us here in Tonga, within the total acceptance of a regime of vaccination, is easier than to spread it over a longer period. Beside it paves the way to nil quarantining at both ends of the “bridge”, let us urge and seek NZ’s concurrence on this. It will be so much easier to open the bridge by totally vaccinating Tonga first-up, as it will take considerable time to vaccinate all New Zealand’s population.
Debt of gratitude
Thirdly, let us all be engaged in employing all those resources currently lying idle to welcome back our family members and to entertain as visitors all the people, both Tongans and neighbours, who have harboured our “abandoned” for the past year. We owe them so much for their patience and forbearance. And what a great way to get our hospitality industry up and running again.
Fourthly, from our political leaders we need humility, honesty and unity to rise to the challenge to lead and engage both the public service and the private sector in planning, presenting and pursuing programmes of national unity and purpose in resurrecting our economy.
During this period of isolation we have witnessed the sterling local efforts to produce abundance from the land and the sea, to witness also the pride and passion with which villages have been clothed in colour and fragrance and to admire the patience and forbearance of all in “awaiting a return to normal”.
At the current pace of repatriation it will take over a year to return all home. We run the risk of slipping into the depths of depression, both economic and mental, and we may see the fragmentation of our society, both home and abroad, if we don’t immediately grasp the advent of vaccines and start building the bridges.
Let Easter be the time for the resurrection of our Saviour and our people.