Sat. Aug 13th, 2022

Health officials have confirmed the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has entered Tonga for the first time after last month’s volcanic eruption, as the number of cases almost doubles to 64.

Health Minister Saia Piukala said 31 new cases had been detected in the previous 24 hours, a record for the Pacific Island nation, which was virus-free until last month.

Dr Piukala said samples sent to Australia confirmed the variant of the virus spreading in Tonga was the highly transmissible Omicron strain.

The source of the COVID-19 infection remains unknown, but suspicion has fallen on ships delivering aid from countries including Australia, China, France, Japan and New Zealand, despite strict quarantine rules and procedures around the handling of goods.

Australian defense chiefs have denied it came from the COVID-hit warship HMAS Adelaide, saying the vessel did not unload its humanitarian supplies at the wharf in Nuku’alofa, where the virus was first detected.

The nation of about 100,000 people remains in lockdown, with stay-at-home orders meaning all businesses and schools are closed and only essential services are allowed to operate.

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