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Before 2020, the remote islands of the South Pacific were more accessible to leisure travellers 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 few remaining corners of the globe where the coronavirus does not exist, thanks to their total suspension of inbound tourism and other non essential travel.
The islands of Samoa, which include the US territory of American Samoa, closed to non essential travel in March and have not recorded any confirmed coronavirus cases. To enter, visitors 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.
According to the US 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. Travellers from a high-risk country must get medical clearance from Tuvalu’s government to enter, according to the US Embassy there.
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 US Embassy in Tonga.
The 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 travellers with a travel history from or through Covid-19 affected geographical areas,” according to the US Embassy there.
In October, the Cook Islands, which are accessible through flights 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 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 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.
“Travellers arriving earlier than the required 14-day waiting period may be subject to quarantine and/or deportation,” according to the US 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 US Embassy there. 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 go through New Zealand.
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 US 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 coronavirus-free status despite its closure to non residents, recording its first case in a local man who was quarantining after returning from the United States, proving that travel shutdowns can be compromised. That case is the country’s only one, according to the World Health Organization.
Health officials say the country’s interior is still considered coronavirus-free because 14-day quarantine requirements prevented 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 US Embassy in Vanuatu.