Tonga health ministry confirms six COVID-19 deaths

(March 7, 2022) Passengers boarding the MV Taka ‘i Pomana for Ha’apai following the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption. Photo: Ministry of Health Tonga

Six deaths from COVID-19 in Tonga have been confirmed, while another five people with the virus died from underlying illnesses, Tonga’s Minister for Health, Dr Saia Piukala said.

The confirmation comes after representatives from the Pacific community (SPC) and World Health Organisation arrived in Tonga earlier this month and worked with the Ministry of Health to determine criteria for establishing COVID-19 positive deaths.

The Minister said the criteria is consistent with other Pacific countries and the cause of deaths were confirmed after their meeting yesterday.

Latest cases

There were 297 new COVID-19 cases recorded Monday, 28 March, with 3,241 active cases, and 2,889 recovered. A total of 6,144 positive cases have been recorded so far in Tonga.

There had been a total of 162 cases recorded in Vava’u. 89 have recovered while 73 were active cases.

Dr Piukala said in Ha’apai another 38 people tested positive to the virus in MIQ.

Death count 

The Health Ministry’s Dr Toakase Fakavikaetau said people had been querying case figures on their Facebook page. She said Health had reported only two deaths in the period 11-29 March.

“We were lucky that the consultants we had requested a while ago were allowed to come on a repatriation flight to Tonga,” Dr Fakavikaetau said.

“They helped us assess the deaths that occurred from 10 March. It was not an easy meeting. Determining whether a person died from COVID-19 is not an easy job.”

Most of the six Tongans who were confirmed to have died from COVID-19 were elderly and the rest had underlying illnesses “but due to COVID it accelerated their deaths,” she said.

Dr Fakaviketau said the other five deaths were confirmed to be caused from their underlying illnesses. They were admitted to hospital due to other illnesses and when they were tested, they were already positive for the virus. 

“Whenever there is a death of a COVID-19 positive person, the committee has to meet so we can update this data to be as accurate as possible.”

“We need to count everyone that is positive.”

Vaccination update 

Minister for Health, Dr Saia Piukala said around 30,000 booster shots have been provided in the Kingdom.

Around 98% of the target population have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 90% have had their second doses.

With the 50,000 plus Pfizer vaccines arriving in Tonga last week, Dr Piukala said the vaccination programme will roll out to the outer islands soon.

Contact tracing

The Ministry of Health is testing the ‘Tonga ‘Atautolu’, a contact tracing app that can be downloaded on smart phones before it will be available to the public.

Head of IT, Walter Hurrell said the testing app will advise those who are confirmed as a close contact of someone who tested positive to COVID-19.

He confirmed no other information on a person’s phone can be accessed by this app apart from their phone number.

Repatriation flights 

Meanwhile, there are four repatriation flights due to arrive in Tonga Wednesday 30 March, from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and Apia, MEIDECC CEO Paula Ma’u said.

The flight from Apia is a chartered Lulutai flight.

Paula said altogether around 300 plus passengers are estimated to be on these flights.

On arrival, they must spend 15 days in quarantine or approved home isolation.