TONGA (ABC4) – In late October, the country of Tonga reported its first-ever case of COVID-19 after a traveler from New Zealand tested positive. According to new reports, that traveler was a young Church of Latter-day Saints missionary.
As the Associated Press reports, Tonga is among just a handful of nations in the world to have avoided outbreaks of COVID-19. Tonga is a group of more than 170 islands, many uninhabited, in the South Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand. Nearby Fiji was able to avoid outbreaks until April when the delta variant hit the island chain and infected more than 50,000 people and killing over 670.
In a radio address on Friday, Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa said the traveler was among 215 passengers who arrived on a flight from Christchurch, New Zealand. The traveler had also been isolated at a quarantined hotel.
News outlets in New Zealand and Hawaii report the traveler is a youth missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The man was fully vaccinated, according to a church spokesperson, and is now quarantining without any symptoms. Before leaving for Tonga, the man had returned a negative COVID-19 test, officials say.
According to Honolulu Civil Beat, the missionary was returning from a mission in Africa, spent several weeks working in New Zealand, and was just able to return to Tonga. Now, Tonga’s most populous island, Tongatapu, is under a curfew with limited public services, closed nonessential businesses, and social distancing and home isolation in place for seven days. This started at midnight on Monday, Civil Beat reports.
A representative of the Church’s Salt Lake City location did not immediately reply to ABC4’s request for comment.
The Church of Jesus Christ held a groundbreaking for the Neiafu Tonga Temple in September. According to the Church, the Tonga temple is in Phase 3 of the reopening process, meaning it is open for all ordinances, with restrictions.