Which Countries Don’t Have COVID-19?
In a matter of months, the novel coronavirus made its way across the world, upending plans. Some countries did better than others when it came to controlling the virus, but more than a year later, it’s hard to believe there are any countries remaining that haven’t had a trace of COVID-19 on their soil.
Surprisingly, though, there are a few left.
As some countries race to roll out their COVID-19 vaccine campaigns, other countries are still yet to experience the coronavirus first-hand.
In this article, we’ll outline the last remaining COVID-free countries on the planet, and analyse how they’ve managed to keep the virus out.
Although the remaining COVID-free countries have have had to wear masks, many have been able to meet up with loved ones
Our findings are based on data collected by The World Health Organisation (WHO), which monitors global COVID-19 cases on a daily basis.
Once we established which countries have officially recorded zero cases, we used national government documents, press releases, and news articles to analyse the steps each country has taken to keep COVID-19 out.
We’ve also decided to include overseas territories in our analysis, since many of them have acted independently with their response to COVID-19 and still managed to effectively avoid the virus.
We’ve all seen how easily the coronavirus can spread, which means data can change in a matter of days, or even minutes. Please bear in mind that this data was collected as of 2 June 2021, and may change over time.
1. Cook Islands
The Cook Islands' method of handling the spread of the coronavirus – and, indeed, preventing it from entering the country – took the form of the nation’s official contact tracing systems: CookSafe and CookSafe+.
As early as 26 March 2020, Prime Minister Henry Puna announced that ‘Code Yellow' measures would be in place on the islands, which heavily restricted public gatherings. Just two days later, despite not having any cases, flights from destinations other than New Zealand were cancelled, as well as all non-essential surgeries.
This South Pacific nation has strong political links to New Zealand, which has been a huge ally during the pandemic.
The partnership between the two countries continued throughout the easing of restrictions, too. From 17 May 2021, a travel bubble between the Cook Islands and New Zealand was given the go-ahead, meaning that travellers from New Zealand can visit the islands quarantine-free.
This independent island nation has worked closely with Australia to fend off COVID-19.
In response to the pandemic, Australia provided Kiribati with testing cartridges, medical equipment, and personal protective equipment, which was key to preventing the spread of the virus.
Moving forward, Australia’s government has also stated that it will support Kiribati with the rollout of COVID‑19 vaccines.
The Government of Kiribati closed its borders and declared a state of emergency in March 2020, whilst also implementing social distancing restrictions across the island. Although this has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 at bay, the lockdown has significantly impacted the Kiribati economy, which relies on fishing revenues, access to markets, and remittances.
Roughly 200 miles from any other landmasses, with the nearest large city a 2,500-mile flight away, the tiny island of Nauru mainly has its geographical isolation to thank for its COVID-free status.
Of course, Nauru’s government was also very quick on its feet in the early days of COVID-19. A national emergency was declared on 16 March 2020, before a national task force snapped into action.
Nauru’s early response involved a strategy of “capturing and containing” cases by improving quarantining and testing capability, developing protocols, upgrading hospital infrastructure, and gathering medical equipment and supplies.
Thanks to the country’s long-standing relationship with Australia, with which it has deep historical and cultural ties, the small island was also able to get more support from outside its borders.
This small coral island is only one-sixth the size of greater London, which has been its main benefit in avoiding the coronavirus – but size isn’t everything.
The Government of Niue created an emergency response plan on 19 March 2020, outlining blue (preparation and readiness), yellow (delay widespread disease transmission), and red (mitigate the impact of the disease) phases.
A few days later, on 25 March 2020, a strict lockdown was introduced. Events were banned, transport was heavily restricted, only essential shops were open, and all tourist attractions were closed.
Niue is a self-governing state in “free association” with New Zealand – a relationship that has benefitted Niue hugely during the pandemic. The island has also partnered with the Kiwis to introduce a quarantine-free travel bubble.
5. North Korea
Officially, North Korea has recorded no cases of COVID-19 – although many experts doubt this is true.
Kim Jong-un acted quickly in a time when COVID-19 had barely left China – the country’s borders were closed as early as 22 January 2020, and still remain tightly shut. Over the past year, testing rates have been ramped up, while entire cities have been locked down.
Although weekly reports from the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asia office show North Korean PCR tests as negative, many question how trustworthy this is. The capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, does not permit free speech, so it’s difficult to know how transparent these results are.
North Korea has claimed that its ‘world-class’ public health system is one of the reasons it has avoided COVID-19. However, outside of Pyongyang, medical facilities are fairly basic.
Many experts also suggest – given the economic relationship between North Korea and China, and the fact they share a border – that closing the borders in earlier January would still have been too late.
This Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 islands, many of which are uninhabited, had help from the WHO in its coronavirus response.
In mid-March 2020, 2.9 metric tonnes of medical supplies were sent to Tonga from the WHO and UNICEF. Stocking up on these supplies was the islands’ first line of defence, and made sure the nation was well-equipped to deal with a fast-spreading virus.
Tonga’s borders have been restricted during the pandemic – only travellers specifically approved by the Tongan Government are allowed to return on periodic repatriation flights. Plus, all travellers arriving in Tonga are required to quarantine for 21 days.
And for those who are actually able to get onto the island, there are more restrictions to bear in mind. The key restrictions include night curfews from midnight to 5am, and all activities and gatherings being limited to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
Turkmenistan – a desert-covered country in Central Asia – endured a strict nine-month lockdown to avoid coming into contact with COVID-19.
Turkmenistan closed most of its borders in early 2020, and cancelled flights to China in early February. The flights that were allowed to go ahead had to be diverted from the capital to Turkmenabat in the northeast, where a quarantine zone was created.
Unfortunately, many experts believe that Turkmenistan isn’t being completely transparent with its COVID-19 cases. The country has had an authoritarian government, controlled by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his inner circle, since 2006.
“Official health statistics from Turkmenistan are notoriously unreliable. For the past decade, they have claimed to have no people living with HIV/Aids – a figure that is not plausible.” – Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
In July 2020, a few media outlets reported a suspicious spike in cases of ‘pneumonia’ in Turkmenistan – a disease with uncanny resemblances to COVID-19. This was also around the same time citizens were required to sign a pledge to wear a mask to protect against “harmful dust” blowing in from the Aral Sea.
As one of the world's smallest independent nations – comprising nine atolls, dispersed over 1.3 million square kilometres of the central Pacific – Tuvalu’s location and population gave the country a head start against the virus.
In January 2020, the Tuvalu Government created a COVID-19 Health Taskforce, during a separate national emergency declared in response to Cyclone Tino.
The government imposed strict border restrictions, which commenced on 3 March 2020. Arrivals who had been anywhere except Fiji, Kiribati, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Tonga, which all had no cases at the time, would be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
On 20 March 2020, Tuvalu declared a state of emergency, and consequently tightened measures across the islands.
Unlike some larger countries abroad, citizens were willing to comply with the measures – perhaps because the nation only has one hospital, with limited medical personnel and equipment.
9. American Samoa
Although this is actually a US Overseas Territory rather than a country, we think it’s still worth mentioning American Samoa’s success. This territory moved swiftly and efficiently in the early days of COVID-19.
The government halted nearly all incoming flights, increased testing rates, and took advantage of social distancing strategies that had already been adopted in response to a measles outbreak that happened at the end of 2019.
Schools were already closed because of the measles outbreak, but were set to reopen between December 2019 and early March 2020. However, the government declared a “continuing” public health emergency on 23 March 2020 due to the coronavirus, which meant schools remained closed.
Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, the head of American Samoa’s coronavirus task force, said that their previous experience with epidemics – Zika in 2016, dengue in 2017 and 2018, and measles in 2019 – gave them the upper hand in this situation: “We’ve been preparing for the big one for some time.”
10. The Federated States of Micronesia
Another US territory, comprising more than 600 islands across the western Pacific Ocean, The Federated States of Micronesia has done an excellent job at keeping COVID-19 out.
As early as 3 February 2020, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, banned citizens from travelling to China and other affected countries. Fast forward to 5 March 2020, and the travel ban was extended to anyone who had been in China anytime since January 2020, or had been in any other affected country in the previous 14 days.
Support from the WHO also helped empower local communities in response to the pandemic.
This small nation lacked the facilities to deal with a fast-spreading virus, which is why the WHO and Micronesia agreed on a few unique and practical solutions. Houses with people under quarantine were colour coded, while people on the islands were educated more on the virus, to prevent stigma. Each community was also able to develop its own action plan.
11. Pitcairn Islands
Although this is actually a British Overseas Territory, rather than a country, it would feel wrong not to praise Pitcairn’s COVID-19 success. Due to the island’s very small population of around 40 people, coming into contact with even one COVID case could wipe out the community.
To prepare for the pandemic, a medical officer visited the Pitcairn Island Council (PIC) on 10 March 2020, and outlined the key measures the territory should take to protect itself.
This group of volcanic islands used its isolation to its advantage. The Council’s first decision was to close the borders – not allowing cruise ships to dock, or any islanders to board them.
Only returning residents, and any temporary residents for work, were permitted to travel on the supply vessel during its 14-day journey between New Zealand and Pitcairn. The government has also stated that these border restrictions will remain in place until 31 March 2022.
12. Saint Helena
Another British Overseas Territory worth mentioning is Saint Helena – a remote volcanic island that combined an effective COVID plan with its geographical isolation to avoid the virus.
Once South Africa (the main way to access Saint Helena) confirmed its first COVID-19 case on March 5 2020, Saint Helena’s government formed the Incident Executive Group (IEG) to coordinate its pandemic response.
On 19 March 2020, the IEG introduced new measures across the island, including social distancing and border closure to all foreign nationals – although one weekly flight to South Africa was permitted to continue.
A key motivator to protect St. Helena stems from the country’s inability to cope with an outbreak, since the island has a very limited testing capacity and a hospital with only two ventilators.
Despite its nationhood being under debate, with the UN calling it a non-self-governing territory, we’ve still put Tokelau on our list to celebrate its COVID-free status.
Like many places on this list, Tokelau’s geographic isolation was the key reason why it’s still free of COVID-19 – but it also made it more challenging for the population, which wasn’t prepared for a pandemic.
To combat the coronavirus, The Government of Tokelau created a Preparedness and Response Plan, which mainly focused on increasing quarantine and isolation capacity on the three atolls. And, as the global number of cases continue to rise, Tokelau is still maintaining strict social distancing measures.
Rather than waiting to deal with the virus if it came to the island, Tokelau actively prepared ahead of time by putting measures in place and making sure it had sufficient resources.
Which countries are almost COVID free?
There are a handful of countries around the globe that narrowly missed a spot on the list of COVID-free countries – and it feels a little harsh not giving them credit.
So, we’ve listed the countries that have less than 100 coronavirus cases (at the time of writing) below:
|Country*||Number of cases|
|The Marshall Islands||4|
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon||25|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||73|
*Similar to our top 13 places without coronavirus, we’ve also included overseas territories in this list.
Like most other countries in this article, these nations are mostly isolated islands, with small populations – but ultimately, they were all quick on their feet when it came to COVID-19 restrictions.
Although geography may have given many of these countries the upper hand in combating the coronavirus pandemic, efficient and stringent rules have also played a key role in keeping these countries free of coronavirus.
While some countries were financially prepared to deal with the pandemic, but failed to do so by undermining its seriousness, these countries took it more seriously from the get-go, despite lacking the financials.
And it’s certainly paid off.