This is a translation of an audio recording provided by the office of Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. It is provided as a statement of record of Hon. Tu’i’onetoa’s public statements.
The government’s efforts to keep the coronavirus away from its shores had been based on what Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa has described as the immediate response phase.
He urged the public to stay focused on the idea that Tonga was in a stage of fighting to stop the Covid-19 from coming into the country.
He said the next phase was recovery, but that would come later if the coronavirus affected Tonga or the war against it was over.
The Prime Minister was responding to questions during an interview with Managing Director and Editor of Radio FM87.5 Katalina Tohi on March 9.
Tonga has no confirmed case of Covid-19. The country is being on lock down, curfew and national state of emergency until April 6.
Katalina Tohi: Two weeks ago there were travelers coming in and out of the country. There were rumours about a Fiji Airways’ air hostess who appeared to have contracted the coronavirus and some travelers to Tonga were on that plane. What has been done to protect Tonga?
PM Tu’ionetoa: Works are underway to organise and discuss the plan. The virus can be contracted through human contact and it came from overseas as we knew it came from China. The number of cases in New Zealand is rising. One has got it in Fiji and Australia there were cases there as well. The three airports through which travelers to Tonga departed were Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. It has been confirmed the coronavirus was there and works were underway to close them. Our National Committee for Covid-19 was working to extend the lockdown. The Ministry of Education planned for the school holidays to be brought forward so they sit within the shutdown schedules. Also the number of civil servants has to be reduced and working from home has to be facilitated. The lockdown was made so that an inquiry was made to find out about those travelers who arrived here on last Saturday and within the last two weeks before that to make sure we did not have the coronavirus here. The government is aware of the needs to import and bring in goods from overseas. But bringing in any more passengers is not allowed.
Katalina Tohi: You talked about the schools. They have one and two-week holiday schedules. This might be an opportunity to activate them at this time just like implementing a national quarantine?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: Thanks Katalina. We are currently thinking about it and the Minister of Education has mentioned that yesterday. A survey had been conducted on government, church and non-government schools about that. We are having a Cabinet meeting tomorrow and hopefully we will have the results of the survey to look at.
Katalina Tohi: Has the government had any plan for those workers at airlines and businesses as they will no longer be working?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: That’s one of the government’s responsibilities is to look after those workers. If you became aware of the time when Tropical Cyclone Gita struck there were various government committees set up to address it such as Shelter Committee, Economic and Social Recovery Committee, the Health, Water and Sanitation Committee and Education. The effects of the cyclone covered many areas which these committees had to deal closely. This is a disease and some of those committees may not be needed. But committees like the Economic and Social Recovery Committee have to provide a plan for the government on this. The World Bank and ADB have given us guidelines on how we apply for financial assistance. When we receive that funding the government will allocate it.
Katalina: The government’s preparedness status is clear both in economic plans and emergency and in long term.
PM Tu’i’onetoa: Every plan has long and short terms. This could be clearer if we refer to it as immediate response phase and recovery response phase. At this stage, we are at the immediate response phase of the plan. To make sure the disease will not come into Tonga. Let’s focus on that. We already understand there will be effects and there will be time for recovery. We have to leave the recovery behind although it is important and we have to be aware of it. When the disease will come in that’s another phase and we have to look at it differently. That’s why it is important for the people not to take these matters lightly. Blocking things at this stage is a better idea. Look at Italy where only two people allegedly brought the disease into their country. Now they struggle to stop it. Say we go past the first or second month and nothing has happened, the tourism sector will be dead already. Then we will implement the recovery plan which will help them to recover financially.
Katalina Tohi: There are people who are flouting the notices.
PM Tu’i’onetoa: That was one of the things we looked at during a meeting attended by almost all the Cabinet ministers and CEOs. We talked about what you are talking about. We are a small population. And it should be easy but some did not want to abide by the rules and some were not aware of the public announcement. But I thank most of the country while we are struggling with the global disaster. I appeal to all Tongans: Let’s work together. We will all share its advantages and we will be happy about it. There was an example Katalina. When the tsunami alert came people went to the shore to watch. When the waves came the people ran, but it was too late. This time we should learn from it like that Tsunami in Niua. Let’s not disobey the government’s rules and the Ministry of Health. We are still safe and the people knew that. Let’s thank God for His love and care for our nation. We have a duty to be obedience.
Katalina Tohi: There were countries who helped us in the past, especially Australia and New Zealand. Have there been any assistance from them?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: These two countries have helped us financially and technically. Our contact with them is closer at this stage, especially the Ministry of Health. Although international flights have been banned, if we need to bring in medicines and services that must be done.
Katalina Tohi: Have you anything else to add?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: I appeal to the public this disease is destructive and there is no need for us to take it lightly, otherwise we would become like Italy or Korea. They tried to stop it, but many lives have been lost. We do not want to lose lives. Let’s stay focused on that. But if the disease comes we have to change our course of action. Let’s pray to God to protect us at this time of difficulty.