72 million cases and more than 1.6 million deaths since December 2019. And yet, despite the phenomenal spread of the coronavirus across the planet in a matter of months, there are a few territories still virgin of Covid-19 cases. We must exclude North Korea and Turkmenistan – two dictatorships locking information – which claim to have no contamination despite journalists’ testimonies indicating the contrary.
The six states, as identified by the WHO, that have avoided positive cases since the start of the pandemic are all in the Pacific Ocean: Kiribati, Palau, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Micronesia. Six out of the 193 member countries of the United Nations.
Until early October, the Solomon Islands were also on the list, but the repatriation to the archipelago of a Solomon Islands student who had tested positive for the virus prompted Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavarea to confirm the loss of “status countries without Covid-19, despite our collective effort to prevent the pandemic from reaching our country “. The student in question had however tested negative three times in the Philippines, where he lived, before taking his flight.
If this former British colony can no longer boast of having avoided the virus, its situation until the fall was symbolic of the other spared micro-states. All closed their borders by March 2020 at the latest, carrying out multiple checks for those who nevertheless had to return to the territory. Particularly vulnerable due to the weakness of their health systems, many Pacific Nations have been quick to adopt such measures.
Even if it means endangering the local economy: in the Marshall Islands, for example, which only declared their first two cases at the end of October, fishermen passing through countries affected by the virus Covid-19 are prohibited from returning to their homeport, and the small country of Oceania has seen its exports fall by 50%. A BBC report in Palau dated last August also points to the financial damage caused by the absence of tourists: “Nationally, the country is expected to lose more than 700 jobs during the Covid crisis, the biggest drop since 1997. Of these, 258 will be in the hotel and restaurant sector, “writes the British media.
“Dependent on external aid”
The Samoa Islands; 200,000 inhabitants, and Vanuatu were also part of the very closed circle of nations without a Covid-19 case, until mid-November. Samoa had however also taken extremely strict measures, in an archipelago with a precarious hospital infrastructure where a large number of inhabitants suffer from obesity and heart disease. The virus Covid-19 was finally introduced by a sailor who returned from New Zealand, yet testing negative. But still no death recorded by the WHO in the country on Monday.
Vanuatu for its part recorded its first case on November 11, a man returning from the United States and placed in quarantine on his arrival like all entrants. Beyond this statistical point, the economy of the archipelago falters due to the absence of tourists: the BBC reported in August that the Asian Development Bank had forecast a drop in GDP of nearly 10% in 2020, largest since the independence of Vanuatu forty years ago.
There are therefore six countries with similar geography and location, Pacific archipelagos, with no recorded positive cases, but hard hit by the economic consequences of their autarky. “The islands are dependent on external aid for their development. They import part of their food, construction, and medical equipment. External aid also finances adaptation to climate change and most of the health sector,” Guigone Camus, a specialist in the Pacific Islands and in particular Kiribati, explained to France Culture.
The anthropologist also underlined the fact that these territories “are not free from epidemics: they have known dengue, since 2015 in particular”. In 2019, a measles outbreak killed 83 people in Samoa, including babies and newborns. “It is therefore difficult to imagine what the need to protect yourself from Covid-19 would give with barrier gestures, masks, a whole Western hygiene system that would have to be adapted locally”, noted Guigone Camus.