Willie Tonga during the International Legends of League game in Cherbourg last year

March 30, 2020

Former State of Origin and Australian centre Willie Tonga has urged all his friends and former teammates at Cherbourg to stay safe during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Willie, who spent much of his early life in Cherbourg when his dad was pastor at the AIM Church, has many friends in the community and still considers the town as home.

He sent his best wishes to Cherbourg – where travel restrictions come into force at midnight on Monday – during an interview on Cherbourg Radio on Saturday afternoon.

Willie shared his memories of playing on the basketball court and footie oval.

“We never went anywhere without a footie or a basketball in our hands, just throwing it around,” he said.

After a career which included stints with the Eels, Bulldogs, Cowboys and the English Super League, Willie is now working as an ambassador with “Deadly Choices”, sharing the message in Indigenous communities of the importance of healthy living and a healthy lifestyle.

“Social distancing … I can’t stress how important that is in these times,” Willie said.

“Wash your hands as much as you can. You can’t overwash your hands!

“I’m a little bit of a germaphobe at the best of times … you’re touching door handles or your benches might not be as clean. Those little things can play a massive role in picking up sicknesses.

“It might be okay for younger people because their immune systems are much stronger than our Elders. Our Elders are more susceptible to it.

“It’s about keeping our Elders safe and checking in on them as well.”

Willie said experts had estimated that a person infected with the COVID-19 virus is bound to infect at least two or three other people is they are not isolated.

“This is one of those things where we really need to take it seriously,” Willie said.

“I can’t stress it enough.”

Willie said that if COVID-19 hit Indigenous communities it would really escalate.

“A lot of people aren’t taking it as seriously as they should be,” he said.

“As hard as it might be to keep your kids inside . . . it’s the safest thing to do right now.

“Until we get more information, try to keep everybody at home and not risk those younger kids bringing it back into the house and affecting our Elders.

“There’s no vaccine at the moment. We have to take all precautions and be as careful as we can be.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

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