Fear new volcanic activities could force suspension of Tonga’s January repatriation flights: Minister

Tonga’s Minister of Internal Affairs Sangstar Saulala is concerned that significant eruptions at Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai last night might affect two scheduled repatriation flights to bring back workers and Tongans who have been stuck overseas.

Minister of Internal Affairs Sangstar Saulala

At this stage no changes have been made to the schedules.

A flight to Tonga from Vanuatu was scheduled to arrive at the Fua’amotu International Airport next week on January 18 while the flight from Auckland, New Zealand was expected to arrive on January 20.

More than 70 Recognised Seasonal Employer workers in New Zealand were expected to return to the kingdom as part of this 300-passenger flight.

The chartered flight from Vanuatu will bring about a dozen Chinese passengers to work on  His Majesty’s Armed Forces’ construction projects. Vanuatu is currently Covid free.

Tonga returned 215 stranded passengers on its last repatriation flight from New Zealand on 27 October 2021.

Previous flight cancellations

Hon Saulala’s concern came after Air New Zealand repeatedly cancelled its repatriation flight from Auckland to Tonga in December due to the high level ash eruption at Hunga Tonga- Hunga Ha’apai detected earlier.

About a month now since the volcanic activities were first reported, significant eruptions at the Hungas last night led to this morning’s tsunami marine alert from Tongan authorities. The public were warned to stay off the beach and out of the water.

“It has yet to be decided whether that could affect the aircraft coming”, Hon Saulala told Kaniva News in Tongan.

Fiji and Australia flights put on hold

Hon Saulala said repatriation flights from Fiji and Australia have been put on hold because of the community surges of Omicron virus in these two countries.

He said Omicron cases in New Zealand were detected at the border and were being monitored at managed isolations and quarantine facilities.

“This was why the New Zealand repatriation flight was allowed to bring part of the kāinga,” he said in Tongan

New Zealand authorities were currently studying Australia’s Omicron situation “in trying to determine what would happen if Omicron got into the community in New Zealand”, Te Pūnaha Matatini complex systems researcher Dion O’Neale told RNZ’s Morning Report yesterday.

“Australia’s Omicron surge is leading to staff shortages that have disrupted supply chains and hampered the economy’s recovery”, Aljazeera reported.

This morning it has been reported that New South Wales has recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic so far, with 29 Covid-related deaths and 63,018 new cases.

Fiji limit social gatherings 

Meanwhile, “social gatherings in Fiji homes and communities are now limited to 20 people as the Government moved this week to contain the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the country”.

RNZ reported on Fiji case saying that “As of 10 January, there were 4,863 active cases in isolation – of both the Omicron and Delta variants – with the death toll at 714”.

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