Five hundred and ninety-seven days after the World Health Organization first identified the novel coronavirus as a pandemic, the small island nation of Tonga has confirmed its very first case of COVID-19, NPR reports.
Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa said that the positive case came from a traveler who’d arrived in the country on a flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, on Wednesday and had been isolating in a quarantine hotel. The traveler was reportedly fully vaccinated and had a negative test result prior to leaving for Tonga. “We should use this time to get ready in case more people are confirmed they have the virus,” Tu’i’onetoa reportedly said in an address to the nation.
Tonga has a population of about 105,700 people, making it roughly the size of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Its geographical isolation, in the South Pacific, is a large part of what has helped it to avoid a major outbreak — though it’s also been a matter of luck. Fiji, which lies about 500 miles to the west of Tonga, was hard hit by the Delta variant in April.
Prior to the news of the New Zealand traveler testing positive, only about 49 percent of Tongans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Tonga’s Minister of Health, ‘Amelia Tuʻipulotu, said citizens have since rushed to get their shots and “now we have coverage of first dose of about 86 percent and a second dose of about 62 percent.”
The Pacific nations of Tuvalu and Nauru are now the only countries in the world to have credibly not reported any COVID-19 cases, CNN reports.
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