Life in a Country Without Coronavirus & How I Got Stuck Here
Written by Zoe Stephens
There are very few countries without coronavirus left. 12 countries without coronavirus, in fact, at the time of writing. 2 of which are presumed to have the virus but are not releasing data. So that leaves 10 countries without coronavirus. All of which are small Pacific island nations.
And I ended up stuck on one.
(See below for a full list of countries without coronavirus – July 2020)
How Did I End Up Stuck in a Country Without Coronavirus?
To introduce myself: I’m from the UK, live in China, and take tourists to North Korea. (Did I get your attention yet?)
I came to Tonga for a weekend trip. I was in Fiji, and COVID-19 had just starting taking hold globally. It hadn’t yet been declared a pandemic, but it was already the only thing people could talk about. Social media and people around me were getting a bit too much, too intense. I needed a break away from it all. So I turned off my phone and went to Tonga – a place I’d previously never heard of before. It’s in the middle of the South Pacific, and with few annual tourists every year it seemed like the perfect location.
Travel may sound irresponsible at this point – but Fiji and the surrounding countries were still countries without coronavirus at this point. It may have been the only thing people could speak about, but it wasn’t directly affecting the lives of the people.
Until the day I left for Tonga, and Fiji declared its first cases of coronavirus.
Fiji was no longer a country without coronavirus, and since Fiji is the gateway for many Pacific island nations, it could be presumed that soon many of these countries wouldn’t be either.
Tonga was quick to react, and I tried to leave the day after I arrived. And the next day after that. But I wasn’t permitted to board either flight, and Tonga went into lockdown for 3 weeks a couple of days later.
And here I am, still in Tonga.
My New Life in Tonga
Since arriving in Tonga, a lot has happened. I mean, a lot of bizarre 2020-style stuff.
First, I moved to the beach to spend lockdown, and a couple of weeks later Cyclone Harold came and destroyed my house, taking with it my purse and left shoe (amongst other things). I moved into a new place that needed a house sitter and with it acquired 4 dogs and a cat that can’t catch the rats. My Grandma died. I’ve been to shops that you never know what they’ll have, since stock relies heavily on what is coming in from abroad or what is in season in the country. I see whales from my back garden. And I realised in the whole country of Tonga there is not one traffic light.
Tonga is a beautiful country, with white sands and turquoise waters. And whales. It is the definition of a paradise island, but being stuck here often takes away that novelty. It’s an ongoing journey of ups and downs, but I try to remain positive and integrate myself into local life as much as possible.
When I first arrived, the Tongans weren’t too welcoming. They weren’t unfriendly, but they certainly didn’t want anything to do with a foreigner. And I didn’t blame them. I’d just come from Fiji, who now had COVID-19 cases. Of course they were cautious. I, too, respected this and kept my distance. Something I found very difficult at first, because when I travel, all I want to do is embrace local life and culture.
Since lockdown has been lifted and we’ve spent a couple of months as a country without coronavirus, there is no longer the worry of transmission, and the Tongan people have become much more open and welcoming, and I can experience and learn much more.
The first couple of months, I kept trying to leave. There have been repatriation flights to get foreigners out of the country, but only one to Germany and the rest transit through LAX. I can’t transit through the US, since I’m not eligible for an ESTA visa, due to travel to North Korea, so it’s not possible to take these flights. Other surrounding countries, such as Fiji and New Zealand, are still not open to foreign tourists. So I guess I’m here for the long haul! It’s been a challenge, especially since I can’t work here, but there are worse places to be. There are better, definitely. But there are worse.
What’s it Like to Live in a Country Without Coronavirus?
Just because Tonga is a country without coronavirus doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t present in daily life. We went through a 3-week lockdown (a very intense lockdown). There is social distancing in some areas or shops, there are signs around promoting hand-washing, and there is still a curfew.
It’s also very much like watching a disaster happen as an outsider, and you can’t do anything to help. The rest of the world is struggling, and you’re sat on a beach watching, knowing you’re safe for the time being and worrying about your friends and family outside.
But in reality, being in a country without coronavirus does, in a lot of ways, distance you from COVID-19. I haven’t seen anyone in Tonga wearing a mask – yet. And we can freely go to shops, bars, restaurants, etc. The main impact, especially for me, is the lack of flights in and out of the country. This plays a big factor in how Tonga still is a country without coronavirus, and indeed I hope they can remain this way. But is COVID-19 entering the country an inevitable possibility anyway?
4 months after Fiji declared its first cases, Tonga has started repatriation flights to get their own people home.
It might be a while until commercial flights start again, I suppose.
What are the Other Countries Without Coronavirus?
As of July 2020, below is a list of countries without coronavirus.
- North Korea
- Solomon Islands
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Marshall Islands