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First Foreign Planes Arrive in Stricken Tonga

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The first foreign aid planes have arrived in Tonga, bearing much-needed supplies for the Pacific nation which was left devastated by a volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami on Saturday.

New Zealand said its military plane landed at Tonga’s main airport after workers cleared ash from the runway.

Australia also confirmed the first of its relief planes had arrived.

Aid efforts had initially been hampered by ash from the volcano.

At least three people have died and communications have been crippled, and Tonga has only just begun to re-establish global contact after five days cut off from the rest of the world.

Yesterday, New Zealand’s Defence Force confirmed its C-130 Hercules plane touched down in Tonga just after 16:00 local time (03:00 GMT). It was loaded with water containers, temporary shelter kits, electricity generators, hygiene and family kits and communications equipment.

Hours afterwards, Australian defence minister Peter Dutton tweeted the first plane dispatched by the Australia Defence Forces had landed, carrying “humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies.”

Australia said the first of its two Boeing C-17 Globemaster relief planes also had a “sweeping” device on board to help keep the runway clear.

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Rescue teams and hundreds of volunteers had for days desperately worked to clear the thick layer of ash at the airport runway in the capital Nuku’alofa that had prevented planes from landing.

Volunteers used wheelbarrows and shovels, in what New Zealand’s commander of joint forces Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour called a “mammoth effort”.

“After the eruption, all of Tonga just turned grey,” Tongan journalist Marian Kupu told the BBC from the capital Nuku’alofa. “We’re talking about dogs and cars and buildings, they were all covered in ashes.”

Ms Kupu said the thickness of the ashfall made clearing the runway “difficult”, and posed a possible health threat to those engaged with the task, who were “mainly young boys”.

Both Australian and New Zealand authorities have confirmed that the aid drops will be contactless, to prevent the risk of Covid spreading to the island which has seen just one case of the virus so far in the pandemic.

“The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” said New Zealand’s Defence Minister Peeni Henare.

Rear Adm Gilmour said no-contact Covid protocols were “being adhered to rigorously”, adding that relief procedures would include making sure the airplane crew would have no contact with anyone on the ground, and that everyone would be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

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“We are very respectful that the last thing that Tonga would need now is a Covid outbreak on top of this disaster,” he added.

Australia has also said no personnel would disembark from their planes.

A New Zealand naval ship was also due to arrive in Tonga yesterday, ahead of other supply ships.

Mr Henare earlier told the BBC the supply ships would bring more than 250,000 litres of fresh water and desalination equipment, used to separate salt from water.

People clean debris following volcanic eruption and tsunami, in Nuku’alofa, Tonga in this picture obtained from social media on January 20, 2022.

Tongans have been clearing away the thick layer of ash that has blanketed the Pacific Island nation since the eruption

“The most pressing matter that’s come through from the Tongan government is the need for fresh water,” he said.

Ms Kupu echoed similar fears that water supplies on the Pacific island nation would run out, saying they were “praying for water, for heavy rain … we do not have enough water.”

Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the heavily Mormon nation sad it has been providing significant shelter and clean water supplies to locals in the past days.

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telecommunications provider Digicel but the line is being overwhelmed by the demand.

The main severed undersea cable connecting the remote island nation to the outside world may also take weeks to fix.

Recently released pictures from Tonga’s consulate in the European Union, have shown the extent of the damage including cars, roads and buildings in Nuku’alofa coated in a film of ash.

Aerial images taken by the New Zealand Air Force, meanwhile, indicate that several villages have been wiped out on islands that have yet to be reached.

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was felt as far away as the US. In Peru, two people drowned in abnormally high waves while beaches near the capital Lima were closed off following an oil spill.

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Foreign News

Spain Donates 4.4m Doses of J&J COVID-19 Vaccines to Nigeria

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The Government of Spain has donated 4,400,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines to Nigeria.

The Spanish Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Juan Sell, said during the handover of the vaccines to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) on Tuesday in Abuja that “this is the largest COVID-19 donation to any African nation.

Sell said that the donation was in fulfilment of Spain’s commitment to supporting developing countries in ramping up vaccination against COVID-19.

He added that “in 2020, the world was faced with the challenge to develop an effective vaccine. In 2021, the challenge evolved to the production and distribution of the vaccines. Today in 2022, we need to put these vaccines within peoples’ reach.

“As we want to leave the acute phase of the pandemic behind, we cannot linger, and there are lessons to be learnt.

“One of the lessons is the need to improve global mechanisms for technology transfer to decentralise the production of health products in all regions, Africa in particular. And that is why Spain has joined the WHO Technology Access Group.

“And that is also why the EU launched Team Europe Initiative on manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Africa, with one billion euros, and that will benefit Nigeria.

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“We need to protect, safeguard and invest in health and health workers, and this is the effort line that Spain is co-leading in the framework of the Global Action Plan, and we have committed 300 million euros for further donations and projects to strengthen public health systems.”

Dr Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of NPHCDA, who received the donation on behalf of Federal Government, thanked the Spanish Government, saying the gesture came at a time when the country needed it most.

Shuaib used the opportunity to call on eligible Nigerians who were yet to be vaccinated to do so.

According to him, continued vaccination will create a scenario that will ensure that even when the virus continues to evolve, the severity of the disease will reduce over time as human immunity increases due to vaccination.

The EU Ambassador to Nigeria, WHO and UNICEF country representatives all commended Nigeria in its efforts to vaccinate eligible Nigerians. (NAN)

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Portugal Reports 14 New Confirmed Monkeypox Cases, Total at 37

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Portugal’s health authorities yesterday reported 14 new confirmed cases of monkeypox, bringing the total tally of confirmed cases to 37.

In neighbouring Spain, health authorities in the region of Madrid confirmed four more cases yesterday, raising the total to 34.

There are another 38 suspected cases of monkeypox in Madrid.

Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a viral infection that was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.

The virus is not as easily transmitted as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that spurred the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts believe the current monkeypox outbreak is being spread through close, intimate skin on skin contact with someone who has an active rash.

That should make its spread easier to contain once infections are identified, experts said.

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Ukrainian Military Warns of Activities on Belarusian Border

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Belarus, which has so far not taken an active part in the Russian-Ukrainian war, is massing forces on the border, according to information from Kiev.

“The Belarusian armed forces are conducting increased reconnaissance and have deployed additional units in the border area.

The Ukrainian general staff said this in its situation report yesterday.

According to the report, the danger of missile and air attacks on Ukraine from Belarusian territory remains.

Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko has not participated with his own troops in the war Russia is waging against Ukraine.

However, Russian troops were allowed to use the country as a deployment area for the attack.

Kiev, therefore, does not see Minsk as neutral, and fears a potential intervention by Belarusian soldiers on Russia’s side of the conflict.

Lukashenko, who was scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea Resort town of Sochi yesterday, has always denied such intentions.

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