Covid outbreak reported on Australian aid ship sailing to Tonga

Covid outbreak reported on Australian aid ship sailing to Tonga
HMAS Adelaide in Dili Harbour, Timor Leste during a recent multi-national disaster relief exercise. Australian Department of Defence photo.

An Australian navy ship bringing disaster relief supplies to Tonga following the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami is now trying to ensure Covid-19 isn’t also delivered to the island nation, which has yet to record a case.

On the voyage to Tonga, Australian amphibious assault ship HMAS Adelaide reported 23 Covid cases onboard, the Australian Department of Defence announced Monday. The cases occurred after the ship set sail. The entire crew is vaccinated and, so far, personnel are either asymptomatic or presenting only mild symptoms.

Citing previous relief efforts to crises whilst also in the context of the pandemic (notably in Fiji following Tropical Cyclone Yasa), the Australian Department of Defence gave assurances that it would still be able to offer support to Tonga despite the Covid infections.

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But the outbreak on board does present another hurdle to delivering disaster relief to the battered island nation. HMAS Adelaide is expected in Tonga on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Australian Department of Defence assured that “humanitarian supplies and equipment on board will be delivered in a COVID-safe manner.”

Offers of aid

On 15 January, an undersea volcano in Tonga erupted with a force scientists estimate to have been 500 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The volcano – Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai – caused a tsunami affecting more than 80% of the archipelago’s population, according to the United Nations. Australia, New Zealand, France, Japan and China have all offered assistance.

HMAS Adelaide, a Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ship. Australian Department of Defence illustration.

HMAS Adelaide is one of the largest ships in the Australian Navy and has a 40-bed hospital onboard, with operating theatres and a critical care ward as well as Covid testing capabilities. The ship carries up to 1,400 personnel.

The ship can carry medium and large helicopters to deliver supplies and personnel to shore. In addition, the ship’s relatively shallow draft allows it to steam into smaller harbours or use amphibious landing craft onboard to bring supplies and personnel onto beaches. 


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