Why Tonga is a Special Country

Till date, Tonga has had one confirmed case of Covid, with no Covid deaths. In the 748 sq km island nation a little smaller than the district of south Sikkim, more vaccines have been delivered to its people than its population – 137,609 doses to 100,209 Tongans. So, when the submarine volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai erupted on Saturday, forming a tsunami whose effects could be felt as far away as the Californian coast, it seemed strange for a country to be faced with an existential threat that was not microbe-related.

What is it like to be isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean from a raging pandemic, only to find that there are other ways of facing a cataclysmic event? A bit like someone blessed with never being sick suddenly finding himself staring up to see a falling grand piano. The problem with extinction – whether at the individual level or the communal one – is that how one is snuffed out matters less than the fact that one is getting snuffed out. Damage has been extensive, even catastrophic. But, thankfully, no Tongan deaths have been reported. Rescue and rehabilitation missions continue. But, consciously or unconsciously, the world feels extra caring towards this beleaguered nation perhaps because it is special – far away from a more familiar form of death, destruction and worry.


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