Despite crew members being infected with COVID-19, the Australian navy’s biggest ship stopped at disaster-stricken Tonga on Wednesday and was permitted to offload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific island, officials said.
On Tuesday, over two dozen sailors onboard the HMAS Adelaide were reported afflicted, prompting concerns that the mercy mission may spread the coronavirus to the small archipelago that was ravaged by an underwater volcano explosion and tsunami on Jan. 15.
Tonga has only recorded one case of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and has avoided any outbreaks. It is one of the few countries on the planet that is now virus-free. According to Our World in Data, over 61 percent of Tongans are completely immunized.
The Australian government said in a statement that the 27,500 metric ton (30,300 US ton) ship had completed the 3,300-kilometer (2,050-mile) journey from Brisbane and will distribute supplies without coming into touch with the local people to avoid infection.
The statement continued, “We appreciate the government of Tonga’s decision to allow HMAS Adelaide to dock and offload humanitarian and medical supplies, as well as the strong emphasis it has put on COVID safety throughout the recovery operation.” “The ship is delivering humanitarian aid and disaster relief materials in a fully contactless manner.”
The ship brings a desalination plant to help restore the drinking water supply, which is a top priority. Helicopters and engineering equipment are also on board.
Australia said that it was expanding its disaster assistance to include electricity and communications restoration.
Visitors to Tonga are routinely quarantined for three weeks upon arrival, and the country’s strict pandemic safeguards impede international disaster relief efforts. All overseas help is to be given without the involvement of local people.
Tongan officials have been leery of receiving international help for fear of unleashing a tragedy much worse than the volcano’s massive outburst. Three people have died as a result of the tsunami.
The ship is the second Australian relief expedition on which at least one crew member has tested positive for HIV. A military cargo jet, the C-17 Globemaster, was previously turned around in mid-flight when a passenger was diagnosed with the coronavirus.