A COVID outbreak has been detected on board an Australian navy vessel delivering aid to tsunami-hit Tonga.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said close to two dozen cases had been reported on board HMAS Adelaide, which departed Brisbane on Friday with more than 600 crew on board.
“We do have a situation on HMAS Brisbane at the moment where 23 personnel have tested positive for COVID,” Minister Dutton told Sky News on Tuesday morning.
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“So we’ll work with the Tonga authorities to keep that vessel at sea to make sure that there’s no threat.
“Obviously they need the aid desperately but they don’t wont the risk of COVID.
“Tonga is very concerned about cases. There are no cases in Tonga at the moment and they’re a vulnerable population.”
The ship is delivering medical and engineering equipment to the battered Pacific island which was inundated after the undersea Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted earlier this month.
Minister Dutton said they would work with the country to make sure the aid gets on the ground.
“We’ve already put aid in through the aircraft .. that’s important,” he said.
“There can be a contactless delivery of much of this equipment as well.
“It may mean that [HMAS Adelaide] is able to dock and provide the support and then we move on from there.
“It may mean that they stand off and wait a number of days.
“We don’t have personnel on the ground. It’s a matter of dropping the aid and providing that support and then hopefully, in time, we can meet what is a 21-day quarantine requirement within Tonga.
“We’ll work with the authorities as to how we balance those priorities but we’re not going to put the Tongan population at risk.
“At the same we want to deliver the aid as quickly as possible.”