The novel coronavirus pandemic has spread to every continent of the world except Antarctica, with over 3.3 million confirmed cases and more than 230,000 deaths.
Yet over a dozen nations continue to report they have not seen a single case.
Here’s where COVID-19 appears to have been avoided — for now.
The rogue nation’s health ministry has continued to report zero cases in weekly updates to the World Health Organization, the WHO’s representative to North Korea Edwin Salvador told the Associated Press in late April.
In its most recent update, Salvador said the ministry had tested 740 people for the coronavirus as of April 17 and no one tested positive. Tens of thousands of people have been quarantined to date as they await testing, according to WHO reports.
Yet doubts remain, particularly as North Korea shares a border with China, which remains its primary trading partner. While that land border has been closed since January, goods are still being brought in by sea, officials in both countries have confirmed.
Defectors and experts have told the Associated Press that the North Korean regime is likely lying about the lack of infections, saying the regime wants nothing to be seen as a threat to leader Kim Jong Un’s rule. They also argue the country’s medical system has never fully recovered after collapsing in the 1990s and suffering through the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks of the 2000s.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based website run mainly by North Korean defectors, reported in early March that 23 people have died from COVID-19. A week later, reporters cited sources claiming nearly 200 soldiers “from several branches of the military” have died from suspected coronavirus symptoms. None of the reports have been independently verified.
North Korea’s main newspaper recently called its public health system “the most superior in the world” and said that Kim Jong Un’s devotion to improving it is the reason why there are no infections, according to the AP.
The autocratic ex-Soviet country has gone even further than North Korea, with officials and state-controlled media not even using the word “coronavirus,” according to Reporters Without Borders. The free speech advocacy organization says the word has also been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces.
But Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov told a briefing in late April that its official data is true and the country is “not hiding anything,” according to Reuters.
Healthcare Minister Nurmukhammed Amannepesov told the same briefing the Central Asian nation had 30,000 test kits at its disposal and was ordering 40,000 more from Russia, Turkey and Germany.
Only one African country, Lesotho, has not yet confirmed a case of coronavirus — even though the nation is landlocked within South Africa, which has seen nearly 6,000 cases and over 100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The government closed the borders in mid-March, and declared a national state of emergency shortly afterwards, in efforts to keep any potential cases out. According to local media reports, the measures were also introduced because the country “doesn’t have testing capability.”
As of May 1, the country’s health ministry reported 31 suspected cases of COVID-19 had come back negative.
The government’s response has also been hampered by a scandal surrounding Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who is being pushed to resign over allegations he and his current wife plotted the assassination of the leader’s previous wife. The couple have denied the allegations.
Ten island nations in the Pacific Ocean are so far free of the coronavirus, along with the Cook Islands, which is technically part of New Zealand yet has its own autonomous government.
Prime Minister Henry Puna declared the Cook Islands “a COVID-19 free zone” on April 29, with over 1,200 negative tests so far. Travellers are still being barred from entering, yet restrictions on large gatherings were lifted this week.
The other nations — Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu — imposed some of the harshest travel restrictions in the world as early as February. The islands are key tourist destinations, meaning borders had to be locked down fast to avoid the spread of the virus.
According to Slate, the Federated States of Micronesia’s travel ban is the toughest of all. Anyone who has visited any country with just a single confirmed coronavirus case is barred from entering any of Micronesia’s islands. Citizens are also forbidden from visiting any country with a case count.
Yet the lockdowns have come at a cost: with tourism revenue nosediving, countries are diverting funds to help their economies. Governments are doing their best to shoulder the financial burden of the pandemic, however, with Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau telling Reuters he will keep his borders closed “as long as necessary.”
Vanuatu was also hit hard by Cyclone Harold in mid-April, forcing the government to announce a second state of emergency on top of the one declared to counter the pandemic. Delivery of cyclone relief supplies were delayed due to coronavirus contamination fears, the Guardian reported.
Antarctica remains the last continent on Earth with no coronavirus cases, but scientists based there are preparing for the worst.
Experts speaking to NBC News say measures put in place to prevent outbreaks from developing — including quarantines, cuts to winter staff at research bases, and even outright bans on social gatherings — may have to remain in place for months, potentially until the end of the year.
That could mean the end of some research programs entirely.
“There will … be implications for the next austral summer field season,” said Stephanie Short, who heads Antarctic logistics for the National Science Foundation. “The exact extent of that impact is yet to be determined.”
According to Reuters, other territories that are under the jurisdiction of larger countries have also escaped the coronavirus:
- Svalbard and Jan Mayen Islands
- Bouvet Island
- South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
- British Indian Ocean Territory
- French Southern Territories
- Saint Helena
- American Samoa
- Christmas Island
- Cocos (Keeling) Islands
- Heard Island and McDonald Islands
- Norfolk Island
- United States Minor Outlying Islands
- Wallis and Futuna Islands
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters