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COVID breaks out on Australian ship heading to Tonga

January 25, 2022

An Australian naval vessel carrying aid for volcano and tsunami-hit Tonga has reported 23 cases of coronavirus. Tonga is considered virus free.

In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, soldiers load onto HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane before departing for Tonga Thursday
HMAS Adelaide had embarked on an aid mission to Tonga and was due to arrive on Wednesday, but with a COVID-19 outbreak on board, officials are trying to determine how to proceedImage: Cpl. Robert Whitmore/Australia Defence Force/AP Photo/picture alliance

There has been a COVID-19 outbreak on board an Australian navy ship en route to Tonga laden with aid.

According to officials, 23 crew on board the vessel have tested positive for the virus. The ship was due to arrive in Tonga on Wednesday with emergency supplies, following the volcanic eruption and tsunami.

Charting the way forward

Speaking to broadcaster Sky News, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Tuesday that the government was working with Tongan officials to decide on the next step.

"They need the aid desperately, but they don't want the risk of COVID," Dutton told Sky News. "We will work through all of that as quickly as we can."

Australia's naval chief Michael Noonan tweeted on Thursday when the vessel had embarked on its journey: "HMAS Adelaide has deployed with emarked supplies to provide immediate contactless assistance to Tonga, following the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hung Ha'apai."

On Friday an Australian aid flight bound for Tonga was forced to return after a COVID-19 case was detected onboard.

The South Pacific island nation, currently COVID-free, has a strict border control policy. 

To keep COVID-19 at bay, Tonga currently requires contactless delivery of aid. 

kb/rt (AP, dpa)