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Tonga’s virus outbreak growing rapidly; omicron confirmed

BANGKOK (AP) — Coronavirus cases continue to rise rapidly in Tonga, and tests have confirmed that the particularly contagious omicron variant is behind the isolated Pacific island nation’s first community outbreak since the start of the pandemic, officials said Thursday.

Health Minister Saia Piukala told reporters that 31 more people had tested positive for the virus, nearly doubling Tonga’s active cases for the second day in a row to a total of 64, the online Matangi Tonga news portal and other media reported.

While the number may seem small, the nation of 105,000 had managed to escape thus far without any infections aside from a single case brought in from a missionary returning to Tonga from Africa last October, which was successfully isolated.

But with the deliveries of critically-important international aid following the Jan. 15 eruption of the massive undersea volcano and a resulting tsunami, two dock workers tested positive at the start of last week for COVID-19.

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