This story by RNZ.co.nz is republished with permission
Tongan athletes and officials stranded in China because of the novel coronavirus outbreak remain in good spirits despite a long wait for arrangements to get them back home.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has confirmed that 52 athletes and officials, from swimming, table tennis, boxing and weightlifting teams, remain in China despite reports that some were to be on a New Zealand-organised flight that landed in Auckland last night.
The teams’ connecting flights to Hong Kong were cancelled earlier this week because of the virus. Matangi Tonga earlier reported China’s government had proposed a new connection, either to Shanghai or Beijing.
A ministry spokesperson said catching the flight from the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus, was too much of a risk for athletes to travel from where they were currently staying.
“It’s a risk for our sports people to fly from where they are to that province and catch that flight to New Zealand but that’s why we just hold there for another opportunity to get out from China.”
“They are well protected. There are no other people in the hotel [in Hunan Province], it’s only the athletes and the officials and they are being really well looked after by the Chinese government,” the spokesperson told RNZ Pacific.
The secretary general of Tonga’s National Olympic Committee, Takitoa Taumoepeau, said the athletes and officials stranded in China remained upbeat.
“They are good, they didn’t contract the [corona] virus and they stay in a very remote place from Wuhan,” he said.
“But I think our government here is trying to negotiate and uplift them from where they are instead of going to Wuhan where all the flights are uplifting the various citizens from.”
Taumoepeau said he was not concerned for the Kingdom’s Olympic preparations because only one swimmer from the four sports teams stuck in China were looking to qualify for Tokyo.
“The team that went to China, they were in the development level so apart from the swimmers, the female swimmer, the other sports they’re not trying to qualify.”
The Ministry of Internal Affairs said it was still unsure of when the Tongan athletes would be able to return home but the government was working closely with New Zealand, Australia and Fiji to organise flights and quarantine.