Covid outbreak strikes Australian aid ship bound for virus-free Tonga

There have been 23 cases of Covid-19 recorded among the crew of HMAS Adelaide, which departed Brisbane on Friday to deliver humanitarian aid to virus-free Tonga.

The wife of one member of the crew has said she only found out about the outbreak after the defence minister, Peter Dutton, appeared on Sky News this morning, with the line of communication to the ship cut right before his appearance.

Dutton announced the outbreak on Sky News on Tuesday morning, saying the government was working with Tongan authorities to keep the boat at sea and make sure there is no threat to the Pacific nation.

“They need the aid desperately but they don’t want the risk Covid,” the minister said. “We will work through all of that as quickly as we can.”

There are over 600 crew onboard.

Dutton said aid has already been sent via C-17 planes and contactless delivery remained an option.

“We are not going to put the Tongan population at risk,” he said.

He added it was about balancing the quick delivery of aid to the ravaged nation and not exposing the vulnerable population to Covid.

“It may mean [the ship] is able to dock and we provide that support and then move on from there,” he said.

“It may mean that they stand off and wait a number of days but we don’t have personnel on the ground, it’s a matter of dropping the aid and providing that support.”

The wife of one of the personnel on board, who asked not be named, said she lost contact with her husband this morning, right before Dutton’s appearance.

“He messaged me all morning up until about 15-20 minutes before the press conference, I haven’t heard from him since,” she said.

“It could be a coincidence, but it is a bit strange.”

She said the last thing he messaged was that they were about 100km away from Tonga and would berth tomorrow, suggesting the crew did not also know about the outbreak when they spoke.

“I was just really annoyed and I want to know why we weren’t allowed to be told before the media. It’s not a secret,” she said.

“They couldn’t even send a quick text message or email to say this is what’s happening and they’ll be a press conference.

“I started getting messages (from family and friends) and I was like ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’.”

It’s the second aid shipment from Australia where a positive case has turned up, with a C-17 plane turned around mid-flight after someone was diagnosed with Covid-19.


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