Coronavirus: Concerns Tonga's lockdown could disrupt distribution of much-needed supplies to tsunami-hit nation

Tonga has just entered a nationwide lockdown after five people contracted COVID-19. 

The development could disrupt the distribution of supplies to the tsunami-hit nation. 

The COVID jitters spread through the capital Nuku'alofa at first light and there were queues at banks as residents waited to get cash out for supplies. 

"Everybody's shocked and surprised at the same time. We are still trying to pick up all the ashes from the volcanic [eruption] and now this," says Nuku'alofa resident Setaita Kanongata'a.

Panic-buying compounded a problem that's become familiar post-eruption - water. 

"We've been to shops, like so many shops, and there's no water. In the meantime for us here in Tonga, we really need water," Kanongata'a says.

Journalist Marian Kupu says the lockdown is for 48 hours - but could be extended. 

"All school has been cancelled, all work has been cancelled, most businesses have been cancelled," she says.

Two of the positive cases had been working at a wharf in Nuku'alofa where aid from foreign warships had been gathered. Both are now in isolation at an army camp and exposure events are being investigated. 

"Trace back on where they were in the past or up to last night, where they have been, if they've been to churches, to kava club, or even to families' homes," Kupu says.

The other three cases are the wife and two children of one of the port workers.

"If these cases are Omicron, you know it'll be like a runaway train," says Melino Maka, Tongan Advisory Council chairperson.

In Auckland, there's concern about the timely delivery of community-organised aid packages. Twenty-seven containers have already landed in Nuku'alofa. Unloading and distribution to families was expected to begin as early as Thursday but the COVID-19 cases have changed all that.

"We figured that they would have started picking up their packages either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Now that timing is delayed," says Jenny Salesa, Aotearoa Tonga Relief Committee co-chair.

Tonga's Prime Minister has said all aid must be delivered in a contactless manner. The Australian ship, HMAS Adelaide, has at least 23 confirmed cases onboard, but it's not known if the Tongan cases have any link to that ship or another one. 

Maka says COVID spreading in the Kingdom would be disastrous. 

"I think the Tongan health system would be overwhelmed."

Around 85 percent of Tonga's eligible population has had two vaccine doses, and many more will now likely be seeking protection.