Covid-19 disease has affected almost all countries of the world, except for 10 countries, so what are these countries doing now?
When the Palau Hotel opened in 1982, it was the only hotel on the island of Palau, so it was named after the island, and there were no other hotels.
Tourism has thrived since that time in this small country, surrounded by the azure Pacific Ocean.
Palau received 90,000 tourists in 2019, five times its total population, and the International Monetary Fund, in 2017, showed that tourism accounted for 40 percent of the country’s GDP.
However, that was before the outbreak of the Corona virus.
Palau had, in fact, closed its borders since late March, and is one of 10 countries in the world that have not recorded confirmed cases (except for North Korea and Turkmenistan).
The Palau Hotel has also been closed since March, and it was not the only one that took this measure. Rather, restaurants were empty of customers, souvenir shops were closed, and hotel guests became quarantined.
And countries where no cases of COVID-19 have been recorded are:
“The ocean here is much more beautiful than anywhere else in the world,” says Brian Lee, manager and co-owner of the Palau Hotel.
It is the heavenly ocean that made Brian always busy, before the outbreak of the Corona virus, the occupancy rate of his 54 hotel rooms was between 70 to 80 percent, but when the borders closed, there was nothing to depend on.
“It’s a small country, so the locals won’t stay in Palau,” says Brian.
And Brian has 20 employees, and he was able to keep all of them, albeit in return for working fewer hours, and he says, “I try to create jobs for them, such as maintenance, renovation, and so on.”
However, empty hotels cannot be maintained or renewed forever. “I can stay for another half a year, and then I might have to close the activity,” he says.
Brian praises the government, which provided financial support to the population and succeeded in preventing the virus from spreading.
“I think they did a good job,” he says, though if the first hotel in Palau is to survive, something must change soon.
The president had recently announced the resumption of “essential” air travel, effective September 1, and meanwhile, rumors circulated of a “air corridor” with Taiwan that would allow tourists to visit.
Brian thinks that may not happen soon.
“I think they should start reopening again,” he says. “Maybe they have travel corridors with New Zealand and countries like this, otherwise nobody will be able to stay here.”
About 4000 kilometers east, across the vast Pacific Ocean, the Marshall Islands also remain free of the Corona virus, but, like Palau, the absence of injuries does not mean that they are not affected by the situation.
The Robert Remers Hotel is located on the main atoll of Majuro, surrounded by a lake on one side and ocean water on the other.
The occupancy rate of the 37 rooms, before Covid-19, was between 75 and 88 percent, and most of the guests were from Asia, the Pacific or the “mainland” (United States).
Since the borders were closed in early March, this percentage has ranged between 3% and 5%.
“We had a few that came from overseas,” says Sophia Fowler, who works for the hotel group.
At the local level, the country is expected to lose more than 700 jobs in light of the economic downturn due to the Corona virus, the largest decline since 1997, and of these, 258 jobs are in the hotel and restaurant sector.
However, self-isolation affects more than tourism, and the Marshall Islands are less dependent on visitors during holidays compared to Palau, as it is the biggest problem in the fishing sector.
In order to protect the country from the risk of the outbreak of the Coronavirus, the authorities banned the entry of ships that were coming from countries affected by the virus, and other ships, including oil tankers and container ships, had to stay 14 days at sea before entering the ports, and the issuance of Fishing licenses, cargo trips discontinued.
The impact became evident, especially since the Marshall Islands is famous for its ornamental fish, especially the glowing “angel fish”, but exports fell by 50 percent, according to a US report.
Sashimi tuna exports have also declined by the same percentage, and other fishing sectors expect a 30% decline during the year.
In short, you may be able to banish the Corona virus, but you cannot overcome it, as it may infect you in one way or another.
Sophia “hopes” that things will return to normal in the country, as well as the activity of the “Robert Reimers” Hotel, next year. But what if that doesn’t happen?
“It would be useless for us,” says Sophia.
Although the border closures have reinforced the poverty of countries free of the Coronavirus, not everyone wants the borders to reopen.
Dr Lyn Tarifunda is the Director of Public Health in Vanuatu, which has a population of 300,000, and although he works in the capital, Port Vila, he is from Ambae Island, which has a population of 10,000 people and lies about 170 miles to the north.
He says, “If you talk to them (in Ambae), the majority want to keep the borders closed as long as possible,” as they say: “We do not want disease, our fate will be annihilation.”
Tarivonda adds that about 80 percent of Vanuatu’s population lives outside the cities and the “formal economy”.
“I notice they are not feeling upset yet,” he says. “They are farmers who grow their own food, and rely on the local and traditional economy.”
Despite this, the country will suffer, and the Asian Development Bank expects GDP to decline by about 10 percent, the largest decline in Vanuatu since its independence in 1980.
This recession is not only due to the closure of borders due to the Corona virus, but Tropical Cyclone Harold hit most of the country last April, killing three people and injuring more than half of the population.
“We were seeing a daily statement on health emergency operations,” Tarivonda recalls. “We were discussing first Covid, then Hurricane Harold, two disasters at the same time.”
Nevertheless, the impact of the Corona virus will be long-lasting.
In July, the government announced plans to reopen borders to other “safe” countries by September 1, then cases of infection increased in Australia and New Zealand, and the plan was postponed.
Tarivonda, who heads a border task force in cooperation with government officials, tourism and airlines, admits that they are “almost back in square one”, without setting a new date for reopening activities.
Traveling across borders at lower rates may help Vanuatu, so the government recently allowed 172 workers to travel to the Northern Territory in Australia for a period of six months to pick mangoes, and financial transfers also help, but it is not enough in a country where the tourism sector contributes 35 percent of the total. local production.
Despite the need to open the borders, Vanuatu will not rush to reopen them, and Tarifunda cites Papua New Guinea, which was almost free of the Corona virus until it recorded a sharp increase in infection rates in late July.
“If the virus appears, it will likely be like wildfire,” he says. “What we see in Papua New Guinea is a reflection of our causes of concern.”
“Given the (health care) restrictions that we have imposed, and the context we are facing in the Pacific, the best bet is to keep the virus away for as long as possible,” he says.
The question is is there anything that countries free of the Coronavirus can do?
There are short-term measures, such as wages for workers and companies, and one long-term action is to wait for a vaccine to be created.
Until then, travel lanes remain the best hope, though Rommel Rabanal of the Asian Development Bank points out that they look simpler than they are.
“These arrangements need prerequisites, such as a common set of testing criteria, contact tracing, and quarantine facilities, in the event of an outbreak. They are under discussion but with slow progress, or perhaps cautious progress,” he says.
“Australia and New Zealand have made clear that only one of them will be the first countries to be tested,” says Jonathan Brick, director of the Pacific Islands Program at Lowe Institute.
“Before that, you need to prevent community transmission. So I think the horizons for travel corridors are no longer available this year,” he adds.
After months, Brick says, the sense of hopelessness is increasing in the closed Pacific countries.
In spite of this, he does not doubt that the only option for these countries was self-isolation on an international scale.
“Even if they kept the borders open, the major tourism markets in Australia and New Zealand would not be open, because they closed their borders,” he says.
“So you will have the worst, a health crisis and an economic crisis. We will have years left to make the right decisions,” he adds.
“But given the measures taken, no one will doubt that the closure was the right move on the part of these Pacific countries,” he says.