By RNZ.co.nz. Republished with permission.
Twenty Tongans stranded in Fiji since March this year have been told their repatriation has been suspended because the risk of importing the delta variant is too high.
Fiji is battling an outbreak that began in April, with over 12,000 active cases in isolation and the death toll at 575.
Tonga’s Government said the group in Fiji were among 2608 Tongans stranded overseas.
Tonga’s National Emergency Management Committee is allowing people to return from Covid-19-free countries such as Vanuatu, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Nauru on direct flights.
But it is not allowing repariation from countries like Fiji, Australia and New Zealand who are struggling with outbreaks of the Covid-19 delta variant.
The committee said Tongans stuck in Fiji included people in transit as well as students.
It said the Tongans were supported with living allowances from the Tongan government.
The committee said the suspension also applied to Tongans trying to get home from New Zealand and Australia.
“The Government of Tonga’s National Emergency Management Committee (NEMC) continues to assess and review the situation in Fiji whilst aiming for the vaccination coverage in Tonga to attain around 70 percent by the end of the year,” the committee said in a statement.
“The Air Vanuatu flight, which arrived in Tonga on 26th August 2021, brought in 14 Chinese nationals who were based in Vanuatu since June 2021 and they were approved by the Government of Tonga to implement a development project having fulfilled the strict requirements dictated by health criteria.”
The statement said those who had lived for more than 14 days in a Covid-19 free country such as Vanuatu, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu or Nauru could enter Tonga on direct flights.
But for those arriving from Covid-19 transmission locations such as Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, the government said they would have to wait as these flights had been postponed based on assessments by the NEMC.
“Tonga has a strong desire to repatriate all 2608 Tongan nationals and residents who are currently stranded overseas.
“The Tongan government also takes this opportunity to extend sincerest gratitude to the Fijian government, and the people of Fiji, for the tremendous support rendered, and assistance received, during this difficult time.”