For all its virulence, for all the breathtaking speed at which it seems to have spread around the globe, there are still places that Covid-19 has not reached and might never enter – places without face masks or elbow bumps, without QR codes or power restrictions, without lockdowns or social distancing. There are a number of countries around the world that have managed to survive the pandemic – many of them islands, most of them isolated.
But the global shockwaves it has sent across the world undoubtedly have, even though the epidemic has not yet hit. The Pacific hosts the largest number of Covid-free nations in the world.
Schools on Rarotonga – the most populated island – were closed in the early months of the outbreak, and demands for social distancing in public places were made.
These precautions were relaxed after a few weeks and the Cooks came closest to experiencing living with the virus. The return of shell money: PNG returns to old ways after Covid’s blow to the economyRead moreBut many have lived in fear of an unregulated outbreak in a country with only 22 doctors and two ventilators for a population of 17,500. We have been living in a safe bubble here without seeing the real effect and destruction that Covid-19 can and does have on communities,”No matter how prepared we think we are,”no matter how prepared we think we are.”we have been living in a safe bubble here without seeing the real impact and devastation Covid-19 can and is having on communities. ”
The effect was felt immediately and clearly when the government closed the borders to foreign travelers in mid-March. “The moment we closed the borders, it hit our people in the pocketbook,” Prime Minister Mark Brown said. Since then, the economy has been boosted by a government assistance package that has kept staff at work and a fraction of business activity going in the absence of critical tourist dollars. Amid the suffering, or maybe because of it, Brown said, a stronger sense of community has emerged. People take care of each other, search after their neighbors and friends, share their homegrown food: the ingenuity of people has resurfaced. In the meantime, a business community struggling to survive is still waiting for a partial lifeline with New Zealand from a potential quarantine-free travel bubble, and residents live a life without face masks or restrictions.
The French territory had only 62 confirmed cases at the time: now it has more than 15,000 and 91 fatalities. But the closure came at a cost.
Already fragile economies across the Pacific, especially those dependent on tourism, have been devastated by the closure of Covid-19. In 2020, Fiji’s economy collapsed by more than 20 percent, and thousands left jobs there in the tourism sector to return to farming on their ancestral lands.
People have returned to shelling cash and barter in some areas of Papua New Guinea as the formal economy has stalled. Fifty-two percent of families across Papua New Guinea have taken their children out of school because, according to a World Bank survey, they could not afford to enroll and attend them. And in the neighboring Solomon Islands, where there were only 17 incidents, 57 percent of all families su su su “I also appreciate traffic because it’s a sign of normalcy,” the Guardian said to Semdiu Decherong, a government employee.