NEW DELHI, MARCH 31: The rapidly spreading Coronavirus disease Covid-19 has affected more than 5,00,000 people across the world and led to the deaths of thousands. But there are still a few remote corners where the virus has not infected any person.
One such place is the Palau Island, nestled in the northern Pacific. It has a population of 18,000, but has still not reported a single Covid-19 positive case.
A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometres from its nearest neighbours, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific, which has acted as a buffer against the virus.
The strict travel restrictions have also helped in keeping infections at bay for a number of nations in the region including Tonga, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica.
But remoteness is not certain to stop the relentless march of the new disease. The Northern Mariana Islands (north of Palau) confirmed its first cases over the weekend, followed by a suspected death on Monday.
“You can feel a rising tension and anxiety just shopping,” 28-year-old artist Klamiokl Tulop told news agency AFP. “Stores are crowded even more during non-payday weeks.”
She is hopeful Palau can avoid the fate of Wuhan, New York or Madrid – where better-resourced health services were overrun.
There have been several scares on Palau, including a potential case that saw one person placed into quarantine this week as authorities await test results.
These scares, and the global spread of the disease, have led to an economic paralysis on the island.
Supermarket aisles in the country’s largest town Koror have seen panic buying and there are shortages of hand sanitisers, masks and alcohol.
The island depends heavily on goods being shipped or flown in, meaning supplies can quickly run low.
United Airlines used to fly 6 times a week from nearby Guam – which has seen more than 50 cases – but now there is just 1 flight a week.
Many islanders depend on tourism, but work has already dried up.
Residents have been practising social distancing. Doctors are waiting for test kits to arrive from Taiwan. The Government is building 5 isolation rooms that will be able to hold up to 14 patients.
The only virus free continent today is Antarctica. There is no need for social distancing in the tundra.
The groups of expeditioners present there are safe, but they do think about how their loved ones are going back home.
In some places, reporting no cases does not always mean there are no cases to report.
North Korea has portrayed emergency measures as an unqualified success in keeping Covid-19 out, despite sustained epidemics in neighbouring China and South Korea.
But state media also appears to have doctored images to give ordinary North Koreans face masks – handing sceptics reason to believe the world’s most secretive Government may not be telling the whole truth.