Before 2020, the remote islands of the South Pacific were more accessible to leisure travelers than ever before. Thanks to affordable global air travel, little-known places such as Tonga, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands welcomed thousands of visitors annually from all over the world — up until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Now those islands are some of the only remaining corners of the globe where the coronavirus doesn’t exist, thanks to their total suspension of inbound tourism and other nonessential travel.
The islands of Samoa, which include the U.S. territory of American Samoa, closed to nonessential travel in March and have not recorded any confirmed coronavirus cases. To enter, U.S. citizens must hold permanent residency and request permission from the Samoan Health Ministry to travel on a commercial flight to Samoa through Auckland, New Zealand, before quarantining for 14 days.
Despite recent reports of a sailor testing positive for the virus in quarantine before then testing negative, the World Health Organization categorizes Samoa and American Samoa as covid-free.
According to the U.S. Embassy in American Samoa, masks are not required in public.
The tiny island nation of Tuvalu has no reported coronavirus cases and does not allow visitors who have been in any countries where the coronavirus is present within five days before their arrival. Travelers from a high-risk country must get medical clearance from Tuvalu’s government to enter, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tuvalu.
Only citizens of Tonga “returning by special arrangement” are allowed to enter the string of islands, which has had zero confirmed coronavirus cases. One weekly flight is available from New Zealand, which requires strict quarantines. Cruise ships and yacht sailings to the nation have been banned “until further notice,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Tonga.
The little-known archipelago of Palau has not reported any coronavirus cases and closed off international travel in March when the pandemic began. Since April, a mandatory 14-day quarantine has been required for “all travelers with a travel history from or through COVID-19 affected geographical areas,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Palau.
In October, the Cook Islands, which are accessible via air from New Zealand, announced a continuation of its air-travel border closure “until further notice.” Only residents can leave and enter the islands, and they are required to quarantine in New Zealand before reentering with a negative coronavirus test result.
“If you have already booked your travel to the Cook Islands, it is recommended that you contact your travel agent/ airline and/or insurance company to advise them of the unforeseen changes to your travel,” the Cook Islands tourism board says on its website, which declared the islands “a covid-19 free zone.”
The island nation of Niue has required strict 14-day quarantines since April, according to its tourism board, and has no reported coronavirus cases within its borders.
Weekly flights to the island from New Zealand, which has strict quarantine requirements in place itself, are only for residents “with a letter from the government saying they have the right to enter Nieu,” according to the tourism board. Those limited arrivals are also required to quarantine.
Kiribati, a nation in Oceania composed of atolls, has zero reported coronavirus cases among its population of 110,000. The country only allows visitors from nations that do not have any coronavirus cases. Visitors from countries with active outbreaks are instructed to quarantine for 14 days in a nation that does not have any cases.
“Travelers arriving earlier than the required 14-day waiting period may be subject to quarantine and/or deportation,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Kiribati.
The world’s smallest island nation, Nauru has no confirmed coronavirus cases and since March has imposed restrictions on visitors from nations with outbreaks, according to the U.S. Embassy in Nauru. The remote country has political connections to Australia and is not popular with tourists. Entry requirements include health screenings by the Nauru Health Department, and flights to Nauru operate via New Zealand, which has strict quarantine measures in place.
Federated States of Micronesia
In August, the Federated States of Micronesia renewed its ban on passenger disembarkation at all of its ports of entry, according to the U.S. State Department. The country, which is made up of hundreds of islands, has zero confirmed coronavirus cases.
Not every tourism shutdown has worked. Vanuatu recently lost its status as coronavirus-free despite its strict closure to nonresidents, recording its first case in a local man who was quarantining after returning from the United States, proving travel shutdowns can be compromised by citizens’ travel. That case is the country’s only one, according to the World Health Organization.
Health officials in the country say its interior is still considered coronavirus-free because 14-day quarantine requirements prevented any further transmission. “A case detected in quarantine is considered a border case and not an outbreak,” the Vanuatu Public Health Department said in a statement to Al Jazeera.
The country’s borders are “effectively closed” until at least the end of 2020, according to the U.S. Embassy in Vanuatu.
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