The coronavirus has now spread to more than 170 countries and infected more than a million people worldwide, but a handful of isolated nations do not yet appear to be affected by the pandemic – as of yet.
According to global data compiled at Johns Hopkins University and first reported by the BBC, 18 countries out of 193 UN member countries have not reported any cases of COVID-19. Many of these countries are remote islands in the South Pacific, such as Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Experts believe other coronavirus-free countries may be underreporting, including the notoriously suspicious North Korea and the conflict-ravaged Yemen.
It is too early to say with certainty whether or not the virus will spread to all corners of the Earth. Harris Ali, a professor of sociology at York University who studied the spread of SARS and Ebola, said that it was possible that some nations would emerge unscathed, but it is not likely.
“Nothing is further away,” Ali told CTVNews.ca Friday in a telephone interview.
Globalization has established inextricable links between cities around the world, which is why the virus first spread between tourists in major Asian cities before reaching Europe and North America. But even the smallest countries rely on a certain degree of international travel, whether for products or people.
“There will always be some connection to other countries, relative travel, or the need for work or tourists,” said Ali. “No place is an island itself. “
Hoping to alleviate an epidemic, the island nation of Nauru – about 4,300 kilometers from Australia and home to 13,000 people – declared a state of emergency last month. So far, Nauru has not reported any cases, but the virus has already spread to neighboring countries, including Guam, Fiji and French Polynesia.
But there are several major unknowns with the coronavirus that can make it impossible to keep it out of countries like Nauru. For example, scientists are still unsure whether a second wave of viruses could occur in the fall or winter, as is the case with seasonal coronaviruses.
Preventing an epidemic would also mean that the Nauru Navy should limit all unauthorized travel – something York University professor Roger Keil points out as impossible for richer countries with tight border controls, such as the United States. United.
“It is almost impossible in this scenario where any place in the world can close tightly to the current situation,” said Keil, a professor of environmental studies who has also studied the spread of infectious diseases.
Keil described COVID-19 as the “first real global pandemic” because of its extent and its extent in four months. He said it was more likely than not that the list of infected countries would grow.
“It has spread to the cities and states of the most powerful countries in the world. There is no reason to believe that it would not appear in these small places either, “he said.
North Korea has so far not officially reported any cases of the virus, but that does not mean that the virus has not installed. The isolated dictatorship is notoriously lax and, in the 1990s, it underreported a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Andy Tatem, professor of space demography and epidemiology at the University of Southampton, leads a mapping project outside the UK that is helping China and other European countries track the spread of the coronavirus. Regarding North Korea, he said that information is lacking.
“It’s always difficult to know what’s going on there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they already owned it and didn’t report it. It is an isolated nation and there are not many movements of entry and exit. So they may have avoided it, but I guess there could be an epidemic there, given what has happened in South Korea and neighboring countries. “
And while a small number of countries have managed to ward off an epidemic, Tatem said he suspects that this group will continue to shrink.
“I think it is possible for these islands to close their doors completely and put in place strict measures, which could well prevent them from obtaining it. The other side of it is that the measures can be very damaging to countries in terms of stopping the tourists they rely on or preventing goods from entering, “he said.
“This virus will exist for a long time, so it is difficult to stay away and it is harmful to maintain these blockages and quarantines. It is therefore difficult to know if they will succeed in keeping it indefinitely. “