An Australian plane carrying relief materials to the Pacific nation of Tonga was turned back after a positive COVID-19 case was found on board.
According to The Guardian, the flight departed Brisbane on Thursday afternoon, but was nearly halved during its flight when it was reported that someone on board had tested positive for coronavirus.
Last weekend’s volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami devastated many of the country’s 170 islands. A thick sheet of ash has covered the main island of Tongatapu, polluting drinking water and making it dangerous for some residents to live outside and be exposed to soot.
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Despite the dire need for help, Tonganese officials have expressed concern over aid agencies arriving on the islands and bringing the coronavirus with them.
So far, the country has managed to avoid any outbreaks, by implementing strict restrictions that keep outsiders away.
An Australian defense spokesman told Reuters that all flight crew members tested negative through rapid antigen tests before boarding. However, results of additional PCR tests came mid-flight, showing that one person had tested positive for COVID-19, and the plane was ordered to return. The supplies were moved to another plane that departed Brisbane on Friday.
However, there has been some relief: other aid ships have approached Tonga at that time, and more are on the way.
A New Zealand naval ship carrying 250,000 liters of water and desalination equipment arrived on Friday, and several other flights from Australia and New Zealand also landed with communication equipment and generators.
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“We have been cleaning up the ashes and have been doing it since Monday,” said Branko Sugar, 61, who runs a bottle shop and fishing charter business out of the capital Nuku’alofa.
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“Everything is very dusty, and we are running out of water,” he told Reuters over a bad telephone line.
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Dr Abhishek Rimal of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told the Telegraph that drinking water is a “major priority issue” at the moment, as drinking from contaminated rainwater harvesting systems right now will lead to severe gastric problems and acute diarrhea. ,
He also noted that prolonged environmental damage could result in acid rain, which could affect staple crops as well as local fish populations, which are “an important part” of the Tongan diet.
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UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said assessment teams had now reached most parts of the country, including the most remote and isolated islands.
“We are deeply concerned about access to safe water for 50,000 people across the country. Water quality checks are on and most of the people depend on bottled water.”
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Hundreds of homes have been destroyed in Tonga’s tiny outlying islands, and at least three people died after Saturday’s massive eruption triggered by tsunami waves that rolled over the islands, creating what the government called an unprecedented disaster. .
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Hapai volcano erupted with an eruption that was heard 2,300 kilometers away in New Zealand and sent tsunami waves into the Pacific Ocean.
The force of the explosion is estimated to be as high as five to 10 megatons of TNT, which is 500 times more explosive force than the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, said James Garwin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. , at the end of World War II.
— With a file from Reuters
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