A cloud of fear and anxiety envelops our pandemic panicked world. The news is an endless stream of death counts, PPE shortages, and job losses. A person can only take so much. At some point we’re all going to end up like the lady in the commercial who’s in the bathtub saying, “Calgon, take me away!” Wouldn’t it be nice to go some place untouched by coronavirus? Sorry to burst your bath bubble, but that’s simply a pipe dream. There’s nowhere good to go.
The smart folks at Johns Hopkins University (“JHU”) have helpfully compiled a map detailing the virus’ presence and provided a breakdown of the confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries by country. (Check it out at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.) Confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide are approaching 1.5 million with 87,000+ deaths. Yet, believe it or not, there are countries in the world which have yet (and I stress “yet”) to record a coronavirus case.
Per JHU, 16 countries are coronavirus free as of April 8th. In alphabetical order, they are Comoros; Kirabati; Lesotho; the Marshall Islands; Micronesia; Nauru; Palau; Samoa; the Solomon Islands; Tajikistan; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Vanuatu; and Yemen. Detect a pattern in these places untouched, as yet, by the pandemic? Mainly they are small, remote islands which are not tourist hot spots.
So, assuming international travel was currently a possibility, what virus free country would be your destination of choice to ride out the pandemic? Think any of the possibilities would be THE place to be right now? Let’s check out some of the options and see how viable they are as a place to get away from it all–with “all” mainly meaning the coronavirus.
Honestly, I’ not even heard of some of the countries JHU listed. Take Nauru for example. Confess. You hadn’t heard of it either, right? Well there’s a good reason we haven’t. It is a SMALL island country northeast of Australia with just over 10,000 people. Sure, Nauru may be an exotic location, but the place only has one hospital and a shortage of nurses. Is that really where you want to hide out from the feared coronavirus? If the pandemic did rear its ugly head in Nauru, you would be sunk.
Asia has three countries without confirmed COVID-19 cases–North Korea, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. For political reasons, I’d have to pass hunkering down in any of these countries even to get away from a pandemic. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were both part of the former Soviet Union. Turkmenistan is still described as repressive. If I’m going to be forced to stay home, I’d prefer to do so here in the U.S. where the order was issued by a democratically elected government that recognize I have rights.
Then there’s North Korea. The fact that (so they say) it has no coronavirus cases is the only good thing you can say about that country. North Korea is widely accused of having the worst human rights in the world. A United Nations human rights inquiry in 2014 found concerns about the scale and nature of such violations. North Korea is run by Kim Jung-un, a (possibly crazy) dictator with access to the button to launch nuclear weapons. The military is everywhere with 37% of the country’s population active, reserve, or paramilitary personnel. And the availability of food can be an issue. A famine between 1994-1998 resulted in between 240,000 and 420,000 deaths in North Korea. Not a top getaway choice, huh?
A beach paradise might be a good get away spot. Would Comoros fit that bill? For those of you who are geographically ignorant (like I was), Comoros is an island country in the Indian Ocean with a population approaching one million. While the location sounds intriguing, it becomes less ideal the more you learn. The country has a high level of poverty with a mostly rural agricultural economy. Moreover, the islands comprising it–3 major islands and numerous smaller islands–are volcanic. You might avoid being in a pandemic hot spot in Comoros but be in the path of some hot, hot, hot lava instead. Nope!
Would Kirabati be a more suitable island location.? The island country, located in the central Pacific Ocean, is made up of 32 atolls and one raised coral island; only 21 of these islands are even inhabited. That sounds pretty exotic! But….it is one of the least developed countries in the world. Fifty-four percent of the population are heavy smokers. In addition, Kiribati suffers from a lack of fresh water. Hmm…die of thirst or from inhaling second hand smoke in an attempt to avoid catching the coronavirus? What appealing choices–NOT! Water being essential to my continued existence, I’d pass on hanging out on Kiribati till the pandemic blows over.
Perhaps a more high profile island location, like Vanuatu, is needed for the great coronavirus escape. If the name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Vanuatu was the location for season 9 of the reality TV series “Survivor.” It is also well known to scuba enthusiasts. The country, which is a Y-shaped archipelago of 82 small islands, is considered a premier destination for scuba exploration of coral reefs. Vanuatu additionally boasts access to one of the largest shipwrecks recreational divers may explore–the wreck of the SS President Coolidge which was sunk during World War II.
Sounds good so far. But wait. There are some significant drawbacks to Vanuatu. First, it was just hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold which was packing winds of 250 km/hour and approaching Category 5 status. Yikes! Second, your social life will be even worse on Vanuatu than if you stayed in the good old USA. The country has banned social gatherings of more than FIVE people for now. As with Comoros, Vanuatu is of volcanic origin. It also has frequent earthquakes. Bottom line? Beautiful scenery doesn’t trump the threat of cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.
You know, maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are being on lock down here in the U.S. after all. Considering alternative locations, we have it pretty good even if we do have to frequently wash our hands, stay six feet away from others, and forgo engaging in non-essential activities. We are a developed country with lots of resources and, even better, it’s home. There’s no place like it–even during a pandemic.
If it was possible, would you run away to a different country to escape COVID-19? Will any country be able to avoid having a confirmed coronavirus case? In post-pandemic times, where would you like to go to get away?