Back in early March 2020, when the global Coronavirus pandemic was yet to be the global Coronavirus pandemic (at least as far as the general public knew at the time), we penned a borderline satirical but also totally true article on the Best Countries to Visit that Don’t Have the Coronavirus, which included Slovenia, Iceland, Monaco, Andorra, Malta and (jokingly) Italy. While we’re still quite personally upset about the famous elves of Iceland making us look the proverbial fool after we so passionately argued that the mystical forest creatures would surely never let the Coronavirus spread to one of the world’s most idyllic destinations, at the end of the day the joke was on us, as the entire global tourism industry ground to a halt more or less overnight (oops!).
Anyway, in the midst of all the doom, gloom, mass death, imminent collapse of late capitalism and the daily horrorshow that’s taking place in the once proud country known as the United States of America, there are some proverbial silver linings as well. According to the legions of data crunchers and research staff at Wikipedia, as of 20 April 2020 there are miraculously 15 countries on this planet we call Earth without any confirmed cases of the Coronavirus! Now, are all these countries either small remote, sparsely populated islands or run by certifiably insane madmen (and/or a guy who obviously murdered his wife but refuses to step down)? Yes, yes they most definitely are. But with silver linings in short supply these days, we’re going to take this sack of half-rotten lemons and whip up some tasty, refreshing, scurvy-fighting lemonade just for you!
[Editor’s Note: Countries are ranked by population, which also coincidentally correlates quite closely to how interesting they were to write about, with the exception being tiny Nauru at the very end, which has had an absolutely fascinating history over the last half century.]
#1 North Korea
It really shouldn’t come as any surprise that as the rest of the world struggles to deal with an unprecedented crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen (at least in 75 years or so, which is basically the same thing as forever), the most glorious state of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea goes from strength to strength under the benevolent, infallible leadership of his excellency, the Marshall of the Republic and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un – or, depending on when you’re reading this, one of his body doubles, since he’s very likely already succumbed to Covid-19 as a result of a short lifetime filled with a outsized number of unhealthy habits.
We were undecided on the rumours of Little Rocket Man’s death until US President Trump strongly denied them at one of his totally insane recent ‘press briefings’ (the same one where he literally suggested injecting bleach or isopropyl alcohol directly into one’s lungs as a possible means of curing Covid-19), at which point it became almost a certainty that the Chubby Monster had gone to join his father and grandfather on that sacred mountain. Anyway, the point here is that North Korea currently has zero confirmed cases of the Coronavirus, so go ahead and start planning your holidays now. It doesn’t get any more romantic than Pyongyang in the autumn or a winter ski holiday in Kangwon Province!
We visited Tajikistan back in the summer of 2010 en route to what turned out to be a lovely holiday in Afghanistan (where the bookseller of Kabul sent our postcards and we even got to run through a minefield while getting chased by a pack of wild dogs – fun!). A decade later, our lasting memories of Tajikistan include 1) Not being able to get a visa in advance because all the Tajik embassies and consulates in Central Asia required HIV tests and we didn’t want to spend a week waiting for an HIV test in any Central Asian countries, 2) Getting detained at the airport in Dushanbe upon arrival, because the visa officer didn’t bother showing up, which ended with us bribing the soldier guarding us then accidentally insulting the aforementioned visa officer when he finally arrived, 3) Grilled me on sticks, lots of it, 4) Someone showing us a room at a hotel insisting that we were going to Afghanistan for heroin, because “everyone goes to Afghanistan for heroin” [spoiler alert: we weren’t going to Afghanistan for heroin, honestly], and 5) Having the soldiers at the last security checkpoint at the airport literally burst out laughing uncontrollably when we informed them that we were flying to Kabul purely for holiday, not for some covert mercenary job (or heroin).
What does any of that have to do with the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020? Well, it seems we owe Tajikistan an apology and possibly a second chance, because these lasting memories we’ve been disseminating for the past decade clearly don’t capture Tajikistan’s greatness. No country in the world that doesn’t rhyme with ‘fourth gonorrhea’ has been able to handle the Covid crisis with such decisiveness, wisdom and aplomb, with the results and hard data really speaking for themselves. We salute you Tajikistan, please accept our apologies. And keep an eye out for Dushanbe In Your Pocket, which should be launching in Spring 2021.
The Republic of Turkmenistan was all over the international news in the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic thanks to its unorthodox approach to fighting the viral scourge. If you didn’t read about it then, or click on the link above, take a deep breath because your mind is about to be blown. Yes, according to sources, “the government has forbidden state-controlled media from writing or uttering the word [Coronavirus] and has ordered its removal from health brochures distributed at hospitals, schools and workplaces.” Since Turkmenistan ranks an impressively miserable 179th in Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index (if you were wondering, there are only 180 countries on the list, and our old friends in North Korea are bringing up the rear), there’s a chance this story isn’t entirely true, but it’s also definitely true.
Why are we so sure? Because the country is run by one Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, or Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow as his mother calls him when he forgets to put the toilet seat down. If you’re not familiar with this chap, he’s a real piece of work, the kind of ‘president’ who gets 97.69% of the votes in totally free and fair elections. In the eloquent words of NPR, the Gurbs is “a flamboyant dentist-rapper strongman,” which in normal times would be a totally insane thing to say about a world leader, but this is 2020, so it barely moves the needle. President Berdi’s entertaining if somewhat totalitarian methods of governing – and his very probable sexual relationships with horses (no joke!) – has already been much better documented by John Oliver and his award-winning crew at Last Week Tonight than we could ever hope to do here*, so we’ll just leave it at that.
* Unless HBO buys In Your Pocket and pours some cash into our production budget (HBO, if you’re reading this, call us, we’re free whenever is good for you).
Compared to Chairman Stay Puft (RIP) and the Turkmen Horse Fancier, Lesotho might as well be Switzerland at this point. The only thing out of the ordinary about this small landlocked southern African nation is that its Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, decided to deal with his messy divorce a few years ago by (allegedly) having his wife gunned down in the street. But don’t be too quick to judge. He had a lot going on at the time, as it was only two days before he was sworn in as prime minister and two months before he married his third wife, who for the record is also implicated in the murder. Promotions and weddings are stressful events, or at least that’s what we hear. And it’s also a testament to Prime Minister Casanova’s leadership skills that he’s managed to thus far successfully navigate the Covid crisis while also deftly avoiding a murder trial by claiming immunity (and sending the army into the streets to forcibly intimidate protesters). In any event, we live in a results oriented world, and you can’t argue with Lesotho’s handling of the pandemic since their current number of cases is the exact same as the odds that HBO is going to buy In Your Pocket: zero, nil, zip, zilch, nada. [Editor’s Note: HBO, we’re still waiting for your call though, don’t you worry about that.]
The Countries that really don’t have any Coronavirus cases yet (probably)
The last 11 countries in the world that don’t have any confirmed cases of the Coronavirus are all island nations, and 10 of those are in Oceania or the South Pacific. Since to the best of our knowledge all of these countries are run by perfectly fine people and it logically makes sense for small remote islands to legitimately not have any Covid-19 cases, we’ll try to be less long-winded and rambling and just give a quick rundown of some of their most interesting points, then insert images of their cool looking national flags and call it day. Hope that’s okay with you.
Situated off the coast of mainland Africa, between Mozambique and Madagascar, Comoros, or the Comoro Islands, are home to nearly 900,000 Coronavirus-free inhabitants, of which nearly all are Sunni Muslim, some 86% are Afro-Arab, very few are fabulously wealthy and the majority are extremely poor. They gained independence from France in 1975 and nowadays their economy is based on an incredibly interesting mix of ‘spices other than pepper’ (40%), breaking up ships (25%) and essential oils (17%), while judging from the photos we found whilst researching this article, they’ve got a handful of gorgeous white sand beaches that are practically untouched by tourism. Final fun fact: the country’s name is derived from the Arabic word ‘qamar’, which means moon!
#6 Solomon Islands
The most populous country in Oceania aside from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, the Solomon Islands officially gained independence from (then) Great Britain in 1978, but is still a constitutional monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II. Aside from boasting more than 30,000 years of fascinating history, the coolest thing about the Solomon Islands is undoubtedly its coat of arms, which prominently features a crocodile and shark, as well as an eagle, a couple frigate birds, two turtles and a war canoe. Based on that alone, it would make much more sense if the Solomon Islands had their own monarch, and (formerly) Great Britain put him on their money, rather than the other way around.
Home to over a quarter of a million people, Vanuatu is an archipelago of 82 relatively small islands. Aside from being an incredibly fun name to say, Vanuatu is probably most known to the English-speaking world as the setting for seasons of the US reality TV series Survivor and Australia’s Celebrity Survivor, as well as being a ‘flag of convenience country’, whereby ship owners register their vessels in order to avoid regulations, taxes, etc. In recent years, they’ve also begun a similar scheme for individuals, so if you’re unhappy with your current passport, you might want to look into acquiring Vanuatu citizenship, which can be yours for only $130,000 and allows for visa free travel to the EU’s Schengen zone, among many other perks (like no taxes of any kind). If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not! And it’s now estimated to account for up to 30% of Vanuatu’s economy.
We know one person from Samoa. His name is Carlos, and he’s a SUPER cool, chill guy who loves rugby. We were planning to go on a road trip around Wales and northern England this spring with him and John Bills of Slavic Misery fame, but those plans got laid to waste by the Coronavirus. Actually, truth be told, those ‘plans’ never amounted to much more than a vague agreement over beers in a JD Wetherspoon during the World Travel Market in London back in November 2019, but Covid could still be considered the final nail in their theoretical coffin. But on the plus side, still no reported cases in the actual country of Samoa, which is great news!
The Polynesian nation of Kiribati might consist of only 32 small atolls with a total area of 800 square kilometres, but it covers an impressive 3.5 million square kilometres of area in the Pacific Ocean and holds the distinction of being the only country in the world to be located in all four hemispheres. While their Facebook page doesn’t appear to be regularly updated, if you’re looking for a proper travel destination without Coronavirus in 2020 or 2021, Kiribati is one of your best bets.
#10 Federated States of Micronesia
Micronesia only formally gained independence from the United States in 1990, but is still an American territory in all but name, as the official currency in the US dollar and the most popular sport is baseball. QED. One area where the two states differ greatly though is with respect to the Coronavirus, namely having it or not. Micronesia currently has no reported cases, while the US has quite a bit more than zero (although we’ve been assured by very reputable sources that it will soon be back “close to zero”).
At first glance there appears to be much of a muchness about all the island nations of Oceania and the South Pacific: all look like idyllic tropical paradises, most are Polynesian or Melanesian, many are still Coronavirus free. But Tonga stands out in many regards. Going back to the 12th century it had something of a maritime empire across the Central Pacific, which lasted several centuries until a couple of civil wars and the arrival of Europeans put an end to that. However, unlike most of its neighbours (relatively speaking), Tonga never succumbed to colonial powers, maintaining its proud independence thanks in large part to the nearly 50-year reign of King Siaosi Tupou I, who established a dynasty that still rules to this day, albeit under a constitutional monarchy. Hopefully, the current king, ʻAhoʻeitu Tupou VI, will be as equally deft at keeping outsiders, and pandemic level viruses like Covid-19, at bay in the 21st century.
#12 Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands are yet another protectorate or territory of the United States in all but name, and just like Micronesia uses the US dollar, loves baseball, signed a ‘Compact of Free Association’ in 1986, formally received independence in 1990 and is 100% certified Coronavirus free. The most famous of its 29 atolls is not the capital Majuro, where approximately half its 60,000 citizens live, but the now unpopulated Bikini Atoll, where the US famously tested atomic bombs starting in 1946. Nowadays, an astounding 84% of the Marshall Islands’ economy is based on its commercial shipping registry, with the Marshallese flag of convenience second only to Panama in the number of vessels sailing under it. And if you were wondering when we were going to mention climate change and the existential threat it poses to many of these island nations, the answer is now, as the Marshall Islands are said to be the most at risk in the world. Since that was a lot of abjectly depressing information about one tiny country, let’s end with a fun fact: the bikini style swimsuit was named after the atoll because of its ‘explosive’ effect on those who saw women wearing it at the beach for the first time. Kaboom!
US dollar as official currency? Check. Inexplicable love for baseball? Yup. Compact of Free Association granting formal independence from the United States in 1994? You betcha! Zero reported cases of Coronavirus? It’s the title of the article, so you know it’s true! More good news: Palau has a burgeoning tourism industry (or at least did before the whole world shut down) and one of the highest GDPs in the region at around $17,000 per capita. It’s also got the same flag as Japan, only with cooler colours. #winning
And the winner for best capital city name amongst all the countries in the world that don’t have any reported cases of the Coronavirus (yet) goes to….[drum roll please]….Tuvalu and its bustling capital of Funafuti! Just an objectively excellent name for a city right there, and it also accounts for almost 60% of the country’s total population, which was only a hair over 11,000 souls last time we counted. As you can probably tell, we’re big fans of Tuvalu, although at some point someone should really tell them that it’s okay if they drop the Union Jack from their flag.
And last, but certainly not least, this plucky little 21 square kilometre island located 300km west of ‘neighbouring’ Kiribati and 1300km north of Tuvalu almost ceased to exist in the 1960s, after companies from the administrating powers of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom had strip mined it into inhabitability in order to extract all of its sweet, sweet phosphate. Being the good blokes that they are, the Australian government offered to relocate the entire population to Curtis Island off the coast of Queensland, and give them Australian citizenship. Knowing a bum deal when they saw one, the Nauruans instead chose to keep their own island, declare independence and nationalise the mining company. And except for the irrevocable environmental destruction, things worked out swimmingly, at least at first.
In fact, Nauruans became some of the richest people in the world per capita (think the 1970s version of Qataris), but didn’t prove too adept at planning ahead, preferring to charter flights for luxury shopping sprees in Singapore and import yellow Lamborghinis to cruise up and down the island’s one paved road. The national trust set up to manage the island funds and guarantee its future didn’t fare much better, and nowadays the only major employee other than the government is Australia’s infamous human rights violating detention centre, ie the Guantanamo Bay of the South Pacific.
Yes, if Nauru was a movie, it’d be Requiem for a Dream or maybe even Dancer in the Dark. A tragically entertaining story with no winners that leaves you feeling utterly depressing at the end. Wait, what’s that noise? It sounds like an alert for a silver lining that’s going to fall woefully short of redeeming the Nauru story. Yup, that’s exactly what it is. As you may have guessed by now, there are no confirmed Coronavirus cases on Nauru – yay! Also, Nauru was originally dubbed Pleasant Island by the first European to lay eyes on it back in 1798. That’s pretty cool, right? And nowadays it’s neck and neck with Tuvalu for the smallest population in the world, if you don’t count Vatican City, which you really shouldn’t. #silverling?
The preceding was written by In Your Pocket’s former editor-in-chief and current editor-at-large Yuri Barron, who these days can be found on the 30th floor of a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, where he was planning to ride out the global quarantine by finishing his memoirs, Thirty-Cent Life: A Decade of Moderately Irresponsible Travel in Dodgy Countries, but hasn’t managed to get round to starting yet. More of his somewhat travel-related work can be found here.