It has been almost a year since the first infections of SARS-COV-2 and eight months since the World Health Organization he declared that the coronavirus was a pandemic, but there are still some isolated places in the world where the virus hasn’t arrived and two countries that claim they haven’t had a single case, even if it is highly unlikely that this is really the case.
Turkmenistan and North Korea
They are the two countries that “officially” have not yet had a case of coronavirus contagion, despite bordering on countries very affected by the pandemic. Turkmenistan borders Iran, where there are more than 828,000 registered cases, according to i WHO data. North Korea instead borders – for 1,420 kilometers – with China, where the pandemic is thought to have begun, and with South Korea, where there have been more than 30 thousand cases. However, Turkmenistan and North Korea also share the fact that they are led by authoritarian governments: they are two countries where there is no freedom of the press and a lot of information is kept hidden for propaganda reasons.
In July, a team of WHO officials were able to enter Turkmenistan and travel around the country and collected many testimonies that in recent months there have been numerous possible cases of coronavirus transmission, and in general an increase in respiratory tract infections. and pneumonia. Local authorities admitted that the number of deaths related to respiratory problems increased in 2020, but claimed that the cause is air pollution.
As for North Korea, experts debated whether it actually had no cases of infection. It was in fact one of the first countries to close its borders – which had already been crossed a little – in January. In February, the government announced it would not reopen them until a cure for COVID-19 was found, making masks mandatory and introducing restrictions on public gatherings. In July, he placed a city near the border with South Korea in solitary confinement and declared a state of “maximum emergency” thereafter having identified a suspected case of coronavirus: a North Korean man who fled to South Korea a few years ago and then returned to the country secretly.
Despite this story, which had led to the isolation of the man, to date the official number of cases in the country remains zero. A WHO report on October 29 says that of the 10,462 tests carried out in the country (which has more than 25 million inhabitants) none have tested positive, but that there are more than 5,000 people who may have or have had COVID-19.
In the middle of the ocean
The places where it is plausible that the virus never really arrived are islands and archipelagos that are quite isolated in the Pacific Ocean: such as Nauru, Tonga, Kiribati, Micronesia, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu. Until recently, Vanuatu was also part of the list, where however on 10 November an asymptomatic citizen returned from the United States, the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands, where the first cases were detected in October. In none of these archipelagos, however, there were local infections: the infected came from outside and were placed in isolation.
The extreme isolation and small size of these island countries, among the main reasons why they are among the areas of the world most exposed to climate change, were advantageous during the pandemic, because it was easier to close the borders and be ready to isolate any infected arriving from the outside. Since the first months of the spread of the coronavirus, the Pacific countries have taken seriously the risk of the virus coming also because none of them have a health system capable of withstanding a possible large-scale spread of COVID-19. However, closing the borders has seriously damaged the economies of these countries, which are very tied to tourism, and has significantly reduced their food supplies. Furthermore, when Vanuatu was hit by a cyclone in April, it was forced to refuse external aid for reconstruction to avoid the risk of contagion.
Australia has allocated AUS $ 300 million to support these countries in economic recovery and the government has promised to use an additional $ 500 million to get all Pacific islanders a vaccine when it becomes available.
There are obviously other places on Earth where the coronavirus has not arrived, as far as we know. The largest is Antarctica, where there are no permanent residents but researchers from various countries are present. For the recently begun summer season – Antarctic summer takes place when it is autumn and winter in Italy – the countries that send scientists over there have decided to reduce the number and they have introduced various other rules to prevent the virus from reaching the continent.
A very small place instead where there is no coronavirus is an atoll in Hawaii, Kure, which is part of a natural park: until recently it was inhabited by four people, volunteers in charge of taking care of native plant species and removing those that have come from outside. For nine months they lived on the island knowing very little about what was going on in the world – they were connected only with a satellite phone – and recently discovered what new life is like during the pandemic.