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Second test negative for Tongan Latter-day Saint missionary who was his nation’s first COVID-19 case

Weak-positive first test of vaccinated Tongan man led government to order lockdown because nation has just five ICU beds for severe COVID patients

A Tonga boy feeds grated coconut to his family’s pigs during the COVID-19 lockdown in December 2020.
Maileva Tu’avao, 9, feeds coconut pieces to his family’s pigs at their home in the Tongan village of Talafo’ou in December 2020. One of eight Latter-day Saint missionaries returning home to Tonga after completing their missions became Tonga’s first case of COVID-19, sending the country into lockdown even though his second test was negative, according to news reports.
Sia Angilau

One of eight Latter-day Saint missionaries returning home to Tonga after completing their missions became Tonga’s first case of COVID-19, sending the country into lockdown even though his second test was negative, according to news reports.

The young man had completed his mission in Africa and was fully vaccinated, according to Sam Penrod, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The returning missionary spent several weeks in New Zealand on his way home and twice tested negative for the virus before he boarded a government-sponsored repatriation flight that carried 215 people to Tonga on Oct. 27.

“Proper COVID-19 protocols were followed,” said Penrod.

The passengers were tested again when they landed in Tonga and placed in a quarantine hotel. The test for the returning missionary returned a weak positive result, a doctor with the ministry of health told the news site MatangiTonga.to. The returned missionary has remained in quarantine.

The doctor announced today that the returned missionary’s second test, taken Monday, was negative.

Tonga effectively closed its border when the pandemic began in March 2020. Many Tongans who were away when the pandemic struck have been unable to return home.

That includes “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of Latter-day Saint missionaries, who have seen their mission service extend well beyond the normal two years for men and 18 months for women, according to Elder Vaiangina “Vai” Sikahema, a General Authority Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ.

“Some Tongan elders have been on their missions for three years and sisters over two years,” he said during the church’s worldwide general conference last month. “They wait patiently with the faith for which our people are known.”

Latter-day Saints comprise nearly two-thirds of Tonga’s population of 106,000. The Ministry of Health reported Tuesday that 64% of Tonga’s eligible adult population is fully vaccinated, and another 25% have received their first dose of vaccines.

About 68% of Tongans ages 12 to 17 have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which became available for teens on Oct. 21, Matangi Tonga reported.

The report of a positive test drove thousands of people to vaccination centers for COVID-19 shots, the news outlet reported.

The country’s intensive care unit capacity for treating severe COVID-19 cases is limited to about five patients, said the Minister of Health, ’Amelia Tu’ipulotu.

Another 20 people could be treated at a health center upgraded to care for COVID-19 patients.

“That’s why we need over 90% of the eligible population to be vaccinated,” she told Matangi Tonga.

The returned missionary is asymptomatic and remains quarantined, Richard Hunter, regional spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ told 1News.

He will be tested again on Friday, said Siale ’Akau’ola, the doctor with the ministry of health.

“We are happy with this result, which we will test again later this week and confirm, and this is good for his family and this person because the weight of the country must have been on him and the difficulty that he was in,” ’Akau’ola told MatangiTonga.to.

Despite the weak positive first test and the negative second test, Tonga will maintain the seven-day lockdown that began Tuesday, Tu’ipulotu said.

The lockdown includes a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. All residents are ordered to stop working and stay inside their homes, except to obtain food, medical supplies or vaccines, or to engage in banking, attend to livestock or respond to emergencies.

Here is the full statement from Penrod, the church spokesman:

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had completed his missionary service in Africa, tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Tonga. He was part of a group of eight missionaries who were returning to their home country on a government-sponsored repatriation flight from New Zealand. Proper COVID-19 protocols were followed. The missionary was fully vaccinated and was tested twice before boarding the repatriation flight. While quarantining in Tonga on his arrival, he was retested and tested positive. He remains in quarantine.