At the time of writing, 12 of the UN's 193 member countries reported having zero cases of COVID-19. So, which are they? Are they telling the truth? And which will be the last country standing?
Shortly before putting this piece together, three of 18 countries yet to record cases of COVID-19 succumbed: São Tome, South Sudan and war-ravaged Yemen, where medical services were likely too overstretched to record cases earlier.
As of 30 April 2020, Tajikistan has reported its first 15 cases of COVID-19, and as of May 2020, Comoros and Lesotho had also reported their first cases, meaning that 181 of the UN’s 193 member countries are embroiled in the pandemic, based on data from European Centre for Disease Protection and Control and John Hopkins University. Therefore, only 12 remain virus-free at the time of writing, and the situation may change quickly.
So, where are these virus-free nations and how are they keeping COVID-19 at bay? By geographical isolation, preparedness, or even misinformation? And which of them might be the last nation standing? Let's find out.
A Pacific Ocean republic of coral atolls and white sand beaches, situated between Australia and Hawaii. Kiribati gained independence from the UK in 1979.
Is it really COVID-free? Definitely a likely candidate to avoid COVID-19 because of its extreme geographical isolation, reinforced by a suspension of air services to its hub, Fiji.
The Marshall Islands are a remote Northern Pacific Ocean atoll chain named after a Royal Navy officer from Kent. It is best known for Bikini Atoll, which was used for nuclear tests from 1946 onwards. United Airlines recently suspended the Marshallese last link to the outside world.
Is it really COVID-free? Almost certainly yes. They are prepared, because they are already on a war footing battling a serious dengue fever outbreak.
A divine Pacific archipelago of inaccessible coral atolls, amid the more populated Caroline Islands - where Pohnpei boasts prehistoric ruins and Chuuk Lagoon is a treasure trove of sunken WWII ships.
Is it really COVID-free? It's very likely, with geographical isolation in their favour since United Airlines’ island-hopper service linking the Caroline Islands to Guam and Honolulu was suspended on 21 March. A suspected case back in mid-March proved negative.
Nauru is a remote Pacific pinprick that challenges the most obsessive country-counters. In recent times, it has seen negative press about its Australian asylum processing centre. Their flight to Brisbane has been reduced to once fortnightly and all passengers onboard must self-isolate on arrival for 14 days.
Is it really COVID-free? Given fewer than 200 visitors reach Nauru each year, it’s a contender to be the last COVID-19-free nation.
Unsurprisingly, this secretive Stalinist state maintains it is COVID-free. While current dictator Kim Jong-Un may have perfected a cure, the country has further isolated itself by closing important transport links with China.
Is it really COVID-free? Extremely unlikely. You might even say 'categorically not'. Pure propaganda, given this repressive regime’s proximity to China and South Korea, two virus hotspots.
One of the most beautiful places people have never visited, this dreamy limestone Pacific archipelago offers world-class diving and swimming with jellyfish. All commercial air travel is currently suspended.
Is it really COVID-free? Almost certainly yes. A suspected COVID-19 patient tested negative recently but geographical isolation until at least 30 April should see it through.
Samoa’s Polynesian people inhabit two main islands, Savai’i and Upolu, north-east of Fiji, both of which possess unbridled nature and dreamy beaches. Air travel to Samoa ceased from 24 March, along with inter-island ferries.
Is it really COVID-free? Samoa’s prospects of remaining coronavirus-free look positive, with a state of emergency in place until 2 May and $5.1million in World Bank funding for preparations, just in case COVID-19 does arrive.
Beyond the capital, Honiara, the Solomon Islands' pristine beaches and coral lagoons epitomise South Pacific beauty, and are popular with divers for vibrant reefs and Guadalcanal’s WWII marine archaeology. Their main international flight link to Brisbane is suspended.
Is it really COVID-free? Seemingly so. As of 30 March, all islanders returned to their villages as the government implemented a national lockdown.
COVID-19 has eluded this Polynesian kingdom of 171 islands, that Captain Cook called the ‘Friendly Islands’, where intoxicating kava is drunk on ceremonial occasions. A national shutdown from 22 March means no inbound flights currently enter Fua’amotu International Airport.
Is it really COVID-free? Eight suspected cases turned out to be negative, so under lockdown it may just stay free of the virus.
This Central Asian maverick reportedly banned the use of the word ‘coronavirus’. Or at least its dictator, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, did. Life inside this arid but eccentric Silk Road destination continues as abnormally as ever despite shutting the borders to outsiders.
Is it really COVID-free? In a regime not known for admitting the truth, it’s very unlikely to be COVID-free, not least given its proximity to neighbouring Iran.
This Pacific Ocean state between New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands has a tribe who worship Prince Philip, while Pentecost Islanders’ are credited with inventing bungee jumping. Vanuatu is currently battling against another deadly foe: cyclones.
Is it really COVID-free? Very likely as no cases are reported, and its borders remain shut.
Epitomising remoteness, the world’s fourth smallest nation of paradisal atolls lies east of Papua New Guinea. Currently, the islanders’ main worry is the sea level rising, but it did respond to this crisis by closing its borders in late March.
Is it really COVID-free? Completely. One of the world’s least visited countries is a hot tip to be the last nation standing.
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