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 English version had been abridged.
The Prime Minister was interviewed by FM 87.5’s Managing Director and Editor, Katalina Tohi, the day before the Legislative Assembly closed on March 26.
During the interview the Prime Minster said the Cabinet was expected to meet with the Speaker and MPs to look at the government’s economic plan to combat Covid-19.
The economic plan included what the government has planned for all sectors such as agriculture, health, fisheries, tourism, education, transportation, elderly and vulnerable people.
This meant the government’s budget for the year 2020/2021 had to be adjusted.
The Prime Minister said there was enough money and countries like Australia and New Zealand and other donors were helping.
Katalina Tohi: Have there been any new laws to look at?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: We had our Cabinet meeting a while ago and we looked at assistance by the government for the tourism, agriculture, fisheries and business sectors which were affected. We also looked at the Public Service Commission’s rules for leave periods if civil servants were infected with the Covid-19 virus. Some have to work from home like the vulnerable people and those in essential services and those who directly work for those affected by the Covid-19 like doctors and nurses. They are entitled to special duty allowances and benefits for their partners and children if they die. There are rules for things like that, including full and part time civil servants
We also looked at how to prepare and the five phases the world has taken to combat Covid-19.
1. Prepare or prevention before the disease arrives
2. When a case or infection is confirmed
3. Prevent it from being spread.
4. It becomes deadly and spreads
5. When the disease is under control.
The countries in the world, even if they are rich, could not stop their people from being infected and dying. We have a small population and cannot wait until somebody is sick before we isolate and treat them. That process will not save lives.
The best process here in Tonga is to be heavily focussed on step one. Be prepared and take preventative measures so that no one falls sick. We had 113 people quarantined at home. Four of them were at Taliai camp. These were the people we cared for in the next two weeks like those from March 21 before international flights were banned. Their 14-day quarantine will end on April 4. Work is underway to see if they are fine and if they needed to be moved to another place and if some of them were sick their conditions must be brought under control and not allowed to spread.
Katalina Tohi: Thank you very much Mr Prime Minister, can you talk about the country’s economic conditions?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: At the moment we are preparing for six months or more and if longer and up to 12 months we must travel that pathway. We have plenty of food. The weather has been favourable and we have had rain, so people have begun growing crops like kumara. The government has begun its programme to provide growers with seedlings and ploughing services. The situation is manageable, but there was a plan B if it deteriorates.
Katalina Tohi: We are talking about planning for the civil servants being under the Public Service Commission and if the government shut down, at the same time there is concern for the private businesses.
PM Tu’i’onetoa: Thanks Katalina. Yes I have touched base on that and talked about the seven rules that had been submitted to Cabinet from PSC. They covered various conditions at this stage and what to do if the condition escalated to a stage in which Covid-19 will arrive. We are still at stage one where we have to be prepared and the preventive measures are being increasingly enforced. The seven rules will cover more areas especially if somebody is sick.
Katalina Tohi: It is understood while international flights are currently being banned there would be exceptions to those who wanted to return home overseas.
PM Tu’i’onetoa: The Cook Islands had requested to allow an aircraft from Rarotonga to land at the Fua’amotu International Airport. It was expected to come with patients to be taken to New Zealand. I declined and demanded further detail information about the kind of patients in the plane, what was their plan for the plane while it arrived here such as re-fuelling, whether the passengers would have to leave the plane and whether any garbage would have to be dumped here, what was the process if the aircraft broke down while it was here. These are what I wanted the Ministry of Health and Civil Aviation to work on and reported back to me. This morning Australia requested through its High Commission office here an aircraft to come and pick up their volunteer workers . I just learnt that the aircraft arrived here a while ago. The US requested to allow an aircraft to pick up their Peace Corps volunteers. They had been given the same response. I was just given this information before I came into our interview. We have 101 people being quarantined at home. They arrived here in Tonga on March 19, 20 and 21. Their quarantine order will end on April 3 – 5 and if they did not show any Covid-15 symptoms we will be grateful they are safe. The hospital was still awaiting the sixth sample being sent to be tested. The case number seven was still in isolation in Uoleva, Ha’apai. She was a woman who arrived from the US and she was fine. Case number eight she was a woman who came from Australia who showed signs of flu, but she recovered. The samples for tests seven and eight were sent through the aircraft that just arrived from Australia. Six people were being isolated at Taliai camp. There were 101 people in the eastern district, 13 in central, 10 in western, 32 in Kolomotu’a, 20 in Kolofo’ou they all were in home quarantine.
Katalina Tohi: It is important Mr Prime Minister to be obedient and stay home.
PM Tu’i’onetoa: As I have previously said during our interview, police and army officers are on duty to make sure it is safe and no one flouts the laws. The Scenic Hotel was being contacted as we needed a good facility like that for isolation. Some people preferred being isolated at their own homes but the disease needed to be well controlled.
Katalina Tohi: Will the two-week lock down be extended?
PM Tu’i’onetoa: If the lockdown went for a year we would still be in a good position in terms of food, water and fisheries. We do not expect this to happen but when we experience difficulties we learn to live wisely.