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British, Australian ships deliver ‘contactless’ aid to Tonga

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) – British and Australian navy ships arrived in Tonga and attempted to deliver aid without making contact with anybody ashore to avoid spreading the coronavirus in a nation which has never had an outbreak.

The danger of spreading the disease was underscored when nearly two dozen sailors aboard the Australian ship HMAS Adelaide were reported infected on Tuesday, raising fears they could bring the coronavirus to the small Pacific archipelago devastated by an undersea volcanic eruption and a tsunami on January 15.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61 per cent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

Meanwhile, the United States (US) announced it would provide an additional USD2.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Tonga through the US Agency for International Development.

The aid was in addition to an initial pledge of USD100,000.

Britain said its ship the HMS Spey arrived with 30,000 litres of bottled water, medical supplies for more than 300 first aid kits, and basic sanitation products. It said none of its sailors disembarked the ship, and instead moved the supplies ashore by crane.

“The United Kingdom (UK) is a long-standing partner of the Pacific islands, and having the ship deployed in the Indo-Pacific meant that we could be there for Tonga in their hour of need, as the island begins to rebuild their homes and communities,” said the Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey in a statement.

The Australian government said its ship had completed the 3,300-kilometre voyage from Brisbane and would deliver supplies without contact with the local population to avoid infections.

“We appreciate the decision of the government of Tonga to enable HMAS Adelaide to dock and offload the humanitarian and medical supplies, and the high priority it has placed on COVID safety throughout the recovery process,” the statement said.

A C-130J Hercules aircraft is unloaded of humanitarian aid supplies at Fua’amotu International Airport, Tonga. PHOTO: AP
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