Ten countries kept Covid out. But they won?


The Palau Hotel, Koror

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Palau Resort

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The Palau Resort, Koror

Covid-19 has contaminated nearly each nation on the earth – aside from 10. So what do they do now?

The Palau Resort opened in 1982, earlier than mass tourism however since then, this tiny nation, surrounded by the sky-blue Pacific Ocean, has loved one thing of a increase.

In 2019, 90,000 vacationers got here to Palau, 5 occasions the entire inhabitants. In 2017, IMF figures confirmed, tourism made up 40% of the nation’s GDP.

However that was pre-Covid.

Palau’s borders have been, in impact, closed since late March. It is likely one of the solely 10 nations on the earth with no confirmed circumstances (counting solely nations which can be full UN members, and excluding North Korea and Turkmenistan).

But, with out infecting a single particular person, the virus has ravaged the nation.

The Palau Resort has been closed since March, and it’s not alone. The eating places are empty, the memento retailers are shut, and the one lodge company are returning residents in quarantine.

International locations with no recorded Covid-19 circumstances

  • Palau
  • Micronesia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Nauru
  • Kiribati
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tuvalu
  • Samoa
  • Vanuatu
  • Tonga

“The ocean right here is far prettier than every other place on the earth,” says Brian Lee, supervisor and co-owner of the Palau Resort.

It’s the sky-blue ocean that saved Brian busy. Earlier than Covid, his 54 rooms had an occupancy charge of 70%-80%. However when the borders closed, there was nothing to fall again on.

“It’s a small nation, so native individuals gained’t keep in Palau,” says Brian.

He has round 20 workers, and has saved all of them on, albeit with decreased hours. “I attempt to discover jobs for them – upkeep, renovation, and so forth,” he says.

However empty accommodations can’t be maintained and renovated for ever. “I can keep for one more half-a-year,” says Brian. “Then I’ll have to shut.”

Brian doesn’t blame the federal government, which has supplied monetary assist to residents, and has, in any case, saved the virus out.

“I feel they did job,” he says. And but, if Palau’s first lodge is to outlive, one thing has to vary quickly.

The president lately introduced that “important” air journey might resume by 1 September. In the meantime, an “air hall” with Taiwan, which might enable vacationers to go to, has been rumoured.

For Brian, it may’t come quickly sufficient.

“I feel they’ve to begin reopening once more – perhaps have journey bubbles with New Zealand and nations like that,” he says. “In any other case, nobody can survive right here.”

Some 2,500 miles (4,000km) east, throughout the huge Pacific Ocean, the Marshall Islands additionally stay Covid-free. However, like Palau, no an infection doesn’t imply no impression.

The Resort Robert Reimers sits on a ribbon of land on the primary atoll, Majuro, with a lagoon on one facet, and ocean on the opposite. Earlier than Covid, the 37 rooms had an occupancy charge of 75%-88%, with company primarily from Asia, the Pacific, or “the Mainland” (the US).

For the reason that borders closed in early March, that charge is has been 3%-5%.

“We’ve had a couple of coming from the outer islands,” says Sophia Fowler, who works for the lodge group. “However not lots.”

Nationally, the nation is predicted to lose greater than 700 jobs within the Covid downturn, the most important fall since 1997. Of these, 258 might be within the lodge and restaurant sector.

However self-isolation impacts greater than tourism – and the Marshall Islands are a lot much less depending on holiday-makers than Palau. A much bigger downside is the fishing business.

To maintain the nation Covid-free, boats which were in contaminated nations are banned from coming into the nation’s ports. Different boats, together with gas tankers and container ships, should spend 14 days at sea earlier than coming into. Fishing licences are unsold, and cargo flights have been lower.

The impact is evident. The Marshall Islands concentrate on aquarium fish – the preferred is the flame angel fish – however exports fell by 50%, in line with one US report. The shore-based cargo of sashimi tuna fell by the identical quantity. Different fishing industries count on a 30% fall throughout the yr.

In brief, you possibly can hold the virus out, however you possibly can’t beat it. Covid-19 will get you somehow.

Sophia “hopes” issues return to regular for the nation, and Resort Robert Reimers, subsequent yr. But when they don’t?

“Then it’s simply not possible for us,” she says.

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Mario Tama/Getty Photographs

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Native employees ready for a cruise ship in Vanuatu in December 2019 – one thing that can’t occur whereas borders are closed

However whereas closing borders has made Covid-free nations poorer, not everybody needs them reopened.

Dr Len Tarivonda is the director of public well being in Vanuatu, inhabitants 300,000. Although he works within the capital, Port Vila, he’s from Ambae, an island of 10,000 individuals round 170 miles north.

“If you happen to speak to them [in Ambae], the bulk say hold the border closed for so long as doable,” he says. “They are saying: ‘We don’t need the illness – in any other case we’re doomed, mainly.’”

Some 80% of individuals in Vanuatu stay outdoors cities and the “formal financial system”, Dr Tarivonda says.

“And my remark is that they don’t essentially really feel the pinch but. They’re subsistence farmers, they develop their very own meals – they rely upon the native, conventional financial system.”

Nonetheless, the nation will undergo. The Asian Growth Financial institution expects GDP to fall by nearly 10% – Vanuatu’s greatest drop since independence in 1980.

That droop isn’t just right down to Covid’s closed borders. In April, Tropical Cyclone Harold battered a lot of the nation, killing three individuals and affecting greater than half the inhabitants.

“We had a every day well being emergency operation briefing,” Dr Tarivonda remembers. “First we’d talk about Covid, then TC Harold. Two disasters happening on the identical time.”

But Covid can have the longer-lasting impression.

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Media caption’Superstorm’ Harold hits Vanuatu after killing 27

In July, the federal government introduced plans to reopen the border to different “secure” nations by 1 September. Then circumstances grew in Australia, and New Zealand, and the plan was pushed again.

Dr Tarivonda, who sits on the border job power together with authorities, tourism, and airline officers, admits they’re “nearly again to sq. one”, with no new date for reopening.

Smaller, particular cross-border journey could assist Vanuatu. The federal government lately allowed 172 employees to journey to the Northern Territory in Australia for six months to select mangoes. Whereas the remittances will assist, they don’t seem to be sufficient in a rustic the place 35% of GDP comes from tourism.

However, regardless of that want for open borders, Vanuatu is not going to rush to reopen. Dr Tarivonda appears at Papua New Guinea, which was nearly Covid-free till a pointy enhance in late July, with concern.

“If the virus comes, it can in all probability be like wildfire – and what we’re seeing in Papua New Guinea is a mirrored image of why we’re frightened,” he says.

“Given our [health care] limitations, the context now we have within the Pacific, one of the best wager is to maintain the virus out for so long as doable.”

Sale of goods in Vanuatu


Forecast 2020 GDP falls

  • 9.8percentVanuatu
  • 9.5percentPalau
  • 6.0percentSolomon Islands
  • 5.5percentMarshall Islands
  • 5.0percentSamoa

Supply: Asian Growth Financial institution’s Pacific Financial Monitor, 30 July

So is there something the Covid-free nations can do?

There are short-term measures, equivalent to funds to employees and enterprise. And there may be one long-term measure: await a vaccine.

Till then, journey bubbles stay one of the best hope. But, as Rommel Rabanal from the Asian Growth Financial institution factors out, they sound less complicated than they’re.

“These preparations have stipulations,” he says. “A standard set of testing requirements, contact tracing, and quarantine amenities, in case outbreaks occur. They’re below dialogue however there was gradual progress – or maybe cautious progress.”

And – as seen with Vanuatu’s “September plan” – the bubbles can burst fairly simply, too.

“Australia and New Zealand have made it clear the primary nation they’ll check it with is one another,” says Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific islands programme on the Lowy Institute.

“And earlier than that may occur, it is advisable to take away group transmission. So I feel the prospects of a journey bubble are off the playing cards for this yr.”

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Mr Pryke says that, because the months go, the desperation is mounting within the closed-off Pacific nations.

He’s, nonetheless, in little doubt that the one possibility for these nations was self-isolation on a world scale.

“Even when they saved their borders open, their main tourism markets of Australia and New Zealand wouldn’t be open, as they’ve locked down their very own borders,” he says.

“So you’ll have the worst of each worlds – a well being disaster and an financial disaster. We’re going to have years and years to have a look at what the precise selections had been.

“However trying again, nobody’s going to doubt that locking down was the precise transfer by these Pacific nations.”