Pacific Islands, secret countries are among the last virus-free places

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) – From Argentina to Zimbabwe, from the Vatican to the White House, the Coronavirus has spread unabated. It is confirmed on every continent except for one and in nearly every country. However, a few places have not yet reported a single case. Some have really survived so far, while others are probably hiding the truth. Here’s a closer look:

Pacific Islands: The largest group of countries free of coronavirus is in the South Pacific. Tonga, Kiribati, Samoa, Micronesia and Tuvalu are among the small island states that have yet to report a single case. But they were not immune from the effects of the epidemic.

Tonga managed to keep the virus out by preventing cruise ships from docking and closing the airport in March, says Paula Taumwipo, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He says the government has even imposed a lockdown, although there are no known cases. These days, only people who test negative for the first time are allowed to return on the occasional return trip. He says he finds it hard to believe that the number of confirmed deaths in the US alone is more than twice the number of his country’s population, which is just over 100,000.

“I think the government has done a good job keeping COVID out of Tonga, but it has had a huge impact on business, especially tourism and accommodation. It’s very bad,” Taumoepeau says. “None of the companies have escaped.”

In fact, many South Pacific islands depend on tourism as their main source of revenue and have seen high unemployment and difficult economies since the pandemic began. Much of the South Pacific is relatively impoverished and has basic health systems ill-equipped to handle major outbreaks.

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Not every place in the South Pacific has been spared either. Over the past two weeks, Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands have reported their first cases, from quarantined travelers. Fiji and Solomon Islands each count only a handful, while Papua New Guinea has reported around 600 cases and seven deaths. French Polynesia has been especially hard hit, with more than 11,000 cases and 50 deaths.

Antarctica: There has probably never been a place on Earth where people have been more vigilant in keeping the virus out of Antarctica, the only continent still free of viruses. This is because it will be difficult to control any outbreak in a place where people live in close quarters and where medical capabilities are limited. People who become seriously ill in Antarctica should usually be evacuated, a process that could take days or even weeks due to extreme weather conditions, which can delay flights.

While most countries have reduced the number of scientists and personnel they send to Antarctica this summer in the Southern Hemisphere, hundreds of people still pray to ensure that the rules are kept and that long-term science programs continue to operate.

People planning to travel to Antarctica usually get tested in their home countries before leaving and then quarantined for at least two weeks in their last country before traveling to Antarctica, says Michelle Rogan-Fenemore, executive secretary of the Council of Directors of National Antarctic Programs. Once there, she says, people are usually tested again and initially asked to remain socially distant and to wear masks.

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Rogan Fenmore says they are doing everything they can to keep the virus out. “We are doing our best to confront a global pandemic,” she says.

North Korea: With a population of more than 25 million, North Korea is by far the largest country to not report a single case yet, although there are widespread doubts about Leader Kim Jong Un’s claim to an exemplary record in warding off the “evil” virus.

North Korea says its anti-virus campaign is a matter of “national presence.” It imposed severe restrictions on cross-border traffic, banned tourists, airlifted diplomats, and mobilized tens of thousands of health workers to check entry points, monitor residents, and isolate symptomatic patients.

In September, North Korean forces shot and killed a South Korean government official who was found drifting near the maritime border. North Korea said its forces then burned the man’s temporary flotation device, in a move to combat viruses.

North Korea’s lockdown and strict anti-virus measures are believed to be putting pressure on its already crippled economy. But an outbreak could be devastating in a country that lacks medical supplies and modern healthcare infrastructure. Most analysts believe North Korea has at least some cases of COVID-19 because it shares a porous border with China, where smuggling activities are rife. Some believe the north may be in the grip of a major outbreak.

Turkmenistan: As with North Korea, there is great doubt about Turkmenistan’s claim that there are no cases. Authorities in the secretive and authoritarian state of Central Asia of 6 million have rejected allegations that they are hiding information about the outbreak. However, health officials have recommended that people wear masks and stay away from each other in public places within two meters (7 feet).

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In March, Turkmenistan imposed restrictions on travel to and from the country and restricted religious events. A World Health Organization delegation that visited Turkmenistan in July said the country should take stronger measures. The head of the delegation, Dr. Catherine Smallwood, said at the time that the WHO had recommended “operationalizing important public health measures” as if the virus was already circulating.

Smallwood has not commented directly on the credibility of the country, which has no cases. She said: “The responsibility for reporting outbreaks rests with the member state, and we rely on the health authorities to inform the World Health Organization of any outbreaks.”


Associated Press correspondents Kim Tung Hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.


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