(Feb. 3, 2021) On January 19, 2021, the Tongan government extended the country’s state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the declaration next set to expire on February 15, 2021. The state of emergency, under the Emergency Management Act 2007, was first declared on March 20, 2020, by Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa and has been regularly extended. The original declaration of a state of emergency stated that the prime minister was satisfied that COVID-19 “is a public health emergency and is imminent and will endanger or threaten to endanger the lives of people in Tonga, therefore this requires a significant and coordinated response. The powers under section 37 of the Act shall be invoked to prevent or minimize illness and loss of human life.” Section 37 provides that authorized officers may exercise various powers necessary for the prevention of illness and the loss of human lives, including preventing people from entering or leaving a place and decontaminating people and property.
A declaration of a public health emergency, under the Public Health Act 2008, has also been in place since March 12, 2020, and COVID-19 was declared to be an emergency notifiable condition effective from the same date. The declaration of a public health emergency provides that
(a) The general public shall cooperate, assist and adhere to all the Ministry of Health’s endorsed
emergency preparedness, prevention and response instructions and plans to the threat of
COVID-19 and to maintain business continuity where possible;
(b) All Emergency and Authorised Officers, identified or appointed in accordance with section
6 and 177 of the Public Health Act 2008, shall:
(i) Carry out their response in accordance with what is generally recommended by the
Ministry of Health and World Health Organization, as amended from time to time; and
(ii) Exercise their duties, responsibilities and powers pursuant to sections 176 to 185 and
sections 186 to 198 of the Public Health Act 2008.
Several National COVID-19 Restrictions Directions and Notices have been promulgated pursuant to the declared state of emergency and public health emergency. The most recent directions, in place during the current state of emergency period, provide that, for example, people must comply with a nighttime curfew from midnight to 5 a.m.; activities and gatherings must not exceed 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors (with exceptions for religious services and education institutions), and must comply with social distancing and Ministry of Health requirements for sanitation and hygiene; all persons must observe and promote social distancing, use protective clothing where possible, observe personal hand hygiene, and follow Public Health Advisories issued by the Ministry of Health; and Tongan Police, Armed Forces, and authorized officers have the power to enforce the directions. Under the directions, funerals are also limited to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, and an authorized officer must be present.
Entry to Tonga is severely restricted. All international flights, except for repatriation flights approved by the Ministry of Health, are diverted from Tonga under Repatriation Restrictions Directions. Tongan citizens and residents can register their interest in returning to Tonga. All travelers to Tonga are required to quarantine for 14 days and to comply with other directions issued by the Ministry of Health.
Tonga has had no cases of COVID-19 to date.