Most of the world has been struggling to contain COVID-19. The disease which was first reported in China, has become a global pandemic that many countries are still trying to get under control. But a hand full of nation have not reported a single case of COVID-19 to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most are in southern and central area of Pacific ocean.
- Federated States of Micronesia
- The Marshall Islands
- The Solomon Islands
- The Cook Islands
These small islands are all technically Covid-19 free. Health experts these 12 countries escaped the pandemic because of a combination of remoteness, small number of people as their combined population adds up to just 1.6 million and because they closed borders when the Corona virus that causes Covid-19 began to spread widely. But just because they haven’t reported any Corona virus cases, does not mean these nations have entirely dodged the effect of the pandemic.
Tourism plays a major role in the economics of most of these countries. And as in many around the world, a lack of visitors has left hotels and restaurants struggling. The owner of the hotel says since March 2020 they have lost their whole business and have zero income.
Palau is one of the island nation feeling the economic pain of Covid-19. Streets that are normally bustling with visitors from abroad have been all but empty for months. With no guests, hotel in the country have also had to make serious cuts. A hotel owner says
No one in our hotel is making their full salary. Most people are 50% or below. Everybody is feeling the pain as thers is no economic opportunity left.
The Palau government recognized early on the economic toll of shutting it’s borders to foreigners. He says
Our capacity, our reality a situation here its that you’re better of with prevention than trying to do something about it later on. So, it became a question of economics or people’s lives, and the right thing to do for anybody in this world is to consider people’s lives.
The Government provided generous subsidies of up to US $10,000 for local people and a few hundred dollars for foreign workers affected by the halt in tourism. Not all Pacific countries rely on tourism as a main driver for their economies.
Countries like Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia rely on fishing and farming and financial aid from the US. But with limited health care facilities and population spread across many islands, the nation’s priority has been keeping COVID-19 from their shores and educating citizens about thorough handwashing, social distancing and other precautionary measures.
Other than Island Nations
In addition to these tiny island nations, there are other countries that haven’t reported a single case of COVID-19 to the WHO: North Korea and Turkmenistan.
North Korea closed its borders in January 2020 and it’s leader Kim Jung-un has repeatedly said the disease is a “potential” threat. He even put the town of Kaesong, which borders South Korea, under lockdown in July 2020. But many observers are are sceptical about the country’s official statistics. They say North Korea’s weak healthcare system may not be able to confirm Corona virus infections, or that the ruling party may simply not be very transparent about whether there are any cases.
Health experts are also wary of Turkmenistan’s claim to be COVID-19 free. It is among the hardest countries in the world for foreigners to enter, and it also closes its borders early on in the pandemic. The authorities government in Turkmenistan also says there are no people in the country living with HIV or Aids, a claim most scientists say is just not plausible.
Back in Paula, where people are doing their best to ride out the economic toll of the pandemic, hotel owner have a bleak prediction about the future. They’re predicting how long will they continue to lose money before suspending more operations or total operations and just wait for the whole world to settle down? Because it’s a financial question arises, we’re willing to lose money, but how much money are we willing to lose?
So while border control, good hygiene and social distancing seem to have effectively kept the disease away from these places, there is no defence against the economic devastation caused by the global pandemic.