Tonga continues COVID-19 vigilance, with WHO assistance

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While vaccines have started to arrive in the Kingdom of Tonga, the World Health Organization (WHO) also continues to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential medical supplies to strengthen the country’s capacity to prevent and respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Tonga has received 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility – a partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO.

At the same time, WHO is continuing to support Tonga’s public health measures, including vigilance to the threat of an outbreak of COVID-19.

In mid-March, 2.9 metric tonnes of medical supplies from WHO and UNICEF were delivered by the World Food Programme-managed Humanitarian Air Service from Nadi, in Fiji, to Nuku’alofa, in Tonga.

“The Kingdom of Tonga is one of the few places on earth without a single case of COVID-19 so far. WHO and other partners are working with the Government to do everything we can to continue to keep the virus out,” said Dr Yutaro Setoya, Officer in Charge of the WHO Country Liaison Office for the Kingdom of Tonga.

“Nevertheless, it’s wise to prepare for the arrival of cases. Shipments like this help ensure that frontline health workers are equipped and protected from potential infection, and that Tonga’s clinical management of potential COVID-19 cases is strengthened.”

The shipment is necessary, even as vaccination is starting. Vaccines are not a single or simple answer to COVID-19. It will still be many months before enough people are vaccinated to have an impact on the spread of the virus.

For the foreseeable future, health systems must be strengthened, and individuals must continue with proven preventative measures such as cleaning hands, physically distancing and avoiding crowds, close-contact settings and confined spaces.

The delivery to Tonga is part of a wider programme carried out by WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific Region. As of 26 March 2021, the following PPE had been shipped to 37 destinations in the Region: almost 1.6 million particulate respirators, 8.9 million surgical masks, 2.9 million pairs of gloves, 748,000 face shields, 466,000 medical gowns, 312,500 pairs of goggles and 17,300 bottles of alcohol-based hand rub. To increase testing capacity, reagent kits for more than 571,000 tests have been shipped to 37 destinations. More than 897,000 swabs have been delivered to help meet sampling and testing needs in priority countries. WHO works with partners to ensure supplies reach remote locations not currently served with flights, such as in the Pacific.

The shipment was made possible with the support of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).