Tongas covid-free status a great collective effort - The new British High Commissioner Designate to Tonga, HE Lucy Joyce

Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 16:58

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

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From left, Lord Tuita, HE Lucy Joyce, HRH Princess Pilolevu, Jocelyn Sikalu Lomu (Chevening Scholar), and Hon. Rev. Dr Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa, 27 April 2021. Photo: Katalina Tohi.

The new British High Commissioner Designate to Tonga, HE Lucy Joyce, congratulated Tonga on its covid-free status this week. The vaccine had arrived before the virus and not many countries are in such a privileged position, she said on Tuesday.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Tonga on April 15, acquired through the COVAX facility. Ms Joyce said the UK, among the first and largest donors, had committed  £578 million to COVAX vaccine equity. She recognised the leadership of HRH Princess Pilovelu and Lord Tuita and the Prime Minister Hon. Rev. Dr Pohiva Tu'ionetoa in volunteering to be the first vaccinated in Tonga in public.

It is has been a great collective effort to keep Tonga covid-free and I congratulate you, Prime Minister, the government and the people of Tonga. As it happens, this is World Immunisation Week, and I commend the Ministry of Health their enviable 98% coverage of standard vaccination programmes. I hope we will see high vaccination levels for Covid-19.

Queens 95th birthday
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The new High Commissioner Designate hosted a function at her residence on April 27 to celebrate the 95th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.  A moment of silence in memory of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh was observed.

In her address, Ms Joyce acknowledged the long relationship between the UK and the Kingdom of Tonga, and said she looked forward to presenting her Letters of Credence to King Tupou VI on 12 May, and the High Commission in Nuku'alofa being officially open.

Even though the British High Commission in Tonga had been closed for the last 15 years, the UK had been continuing to fund regional organisations including SPREP and the SPC.

The UK funds around 10% of the World Bank spend in Tonga; is the 4th largest contributor to the Asia Development Bank; contributes around 18% of the Green Climate Fund, and is among the top five donors for the UN agencies including UNDP, WHO and UNICEF.

We are also...refocusing UK effort in an Indo-Pacific Tilt, which I expect in time to lead to more focus on Tonga, including through defence training, she said.

Electoral roll system

The first bilateral project since reopening in Tonga was funding a new electoral roll system for the Electoral Commission of Tonga to support the election process this year.

In June this year the UK will host the G7 of large economic nations to focus on Oceans, followed by the COP26 in November, to tackle the increasing effects of climate change.

Tonga has already made a number of key commitments including submitting last December an enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution, and by its great work designating 30% of its Exclusive Economic Zone as Special Marine Areas.

Toloa Forest

Ms Joyce also mentioned the creation of the Queens Commonwealth Canopy, a network of areas of indigenous forest to be preserved in perpetuity to mark a lifetime of service to the Commonwealth by HM Queen Elizabeth II. Tonga nominated the Toloa Forest Reserve, which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited in 2018, and the Eua National Park Reserve.

The Prime Minister, Hon. Rev. Dr Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa responded, and said that he remembered that the Tupou College Boys Choir had performed traditional Tongan music to commemorate the event at the Toloa Forest Reserve.

The memorable Mosquito Song got quite a mention too in reknowned media such as the BBC and Time Magazine. As an ex-student of Toloa, I still smile when I recall this royal visit, he said.