Soldiers embark onto HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane before departing for Tonga. File/AP
About two dozen cases of COVID-19 have been recorded among the crew of an Australian warship on its way to deliver humanitarian aid to virus-free Tonga, authorities said on Tuesday.
Authorities in Tonga, hit by a massive volcanic eruption and a tsunami on Jan. 15, have asked for aid to be delivered without human contact amid concerns a COVID outbreak would be devastating for the tiny Pacific island nation.
The HMAS Adelaide which left from Brisbane carrying large quantities of supplies, helicopters, water purification equipment, additional humanitarian aid, and also an Australian Army engineer contingent, is due to arrive in Tonga in a few days.
Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said his government was working with Tongan authorities to keep the ship at sea and make sure there is no threat to Tonga’s 105,000 residents.
Soldiers embark on to HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane before departing for Tonga. AP
Tongan authorities have been wary that accepting international aid could usher in a bigger disaster than the huge eruption of an undersea volcano 10 days ago. The eruption triggered a tsunami that destroyed dozens of homes, and volcanic ash has tainted drinking water.
Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61% of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
Australian officials said 23 crew members were infected on the HMAS Adelaide, which left Brisbane on Friday.
"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.”
It’s the second aid shipment from Australia in which at least one crew member tested positive. A C-17 Globemaster military transport plane was earlier turned around midflight after somebody was diagnosed.
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Australians were celebrating Easter Sunday in a relatively unrestricted manner as the country reported no new locally acquired coronavirus cases.
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The ministry stressed in a statement that its aim to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment.
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