Whilst the coronavirus pandemic may have swept around countries globally, there are still a few countries without coronavirus. So here's a story from someone who lives there.
What is Life Like Inside a Country Without Coronavirus?
Entry and Exit in/out of Tonga
Repatriation Flights (in and out)
Lockdown in Tonga
Current COVID-19 Measures
FULL LIST - Countries Without Coronavirus
Yep, you read correctly. We’re already over half-way through 2020 and there are still countries without coronavirus. The global pandemic has swept through most of the world’s countries, continents, territories and dependencies. It’s found its way into every single media outlet, has affected global economies, and has entered into most people’s daily lives.
There are few people in the world whose lives remain completely unchanged by COVID-19.
So what about the countries without coronavirus? Which there are still a small handful of. And that’s countries that COVID-19 has yet to enter into. There are countries without coronavirus who have previously had cases of Coronavirus but then managed to control it and get numbers down to 0 again. But what we’re talking about is countries that have yet to have any confirmed cases of COVID-19.
There are only a few. You can see the full list of countries without coronavirus below or on our blog here. And for more information on countries without coronavirus, head over to our Countries Without Covid-19 blog. Most of these countries are small pacific island nations, naturally isolated and with a generally low annual tourism volume.
One of these countries is Tonga.
And we happen to have one member of staff currently stuck there.
Zoe got caught up in the pandemic and stuck in Tonga’s strict lockdown rules that came about suddenly after Fiji declared its first case of Coronavirus back in March.
Gone for a weekend trip away in Tonga, Zoe still remains in Tonga now, over 4 months after she first arrived. With no sign that she will be leaving any time soon.
So let’s see what it’s like to live in a country without coronavirus first hand from someone who is currently doing just that!
Life stuck in paradise, and a paradise without COVID-19 might sound like the dream to a lot of people now.
And in a lot of ways, it is. Here, we can freely walk around, go to restaurants, go to bars and clubs we don’t wear masks, and we’re not constantly reminded to wash our hands (although we do, because you should anyway!)
But being stuck in Tonga has its downsides. Being stuck anywhere has its downsides. But Tonga is especially isolating. Never heard of Tonga? Don’t worry - unless you’re a rugby fan, you probably won’t have either. It’s a small island nation about 2 hours flight away from Fiji, located in the South Pacific ocean. In other words, really far from everything.
And just because the virus is not here in physical presence, it’s certainly entered our lives here in one way or another. For me, obviously, the biggest impact has been not being able to leave. But Tonga is a country that thrives on the tourism industry. Every year, thousands of tourists come for the whale season. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can swim with whales. And with 0 tourists entering the country since March, many industries are suffering, especially the tourism industry.
Coronavirus in Tonga is like a shadow following you whilst the sun is shining brightly down. Everything is fine, it’s sunny and you’re in paradise. But the word on everyone’s lips is coronavirus. And if you want my opinion, it is only a matter of time before the country gets it. Tonga has been extremely strict with its measures, but how long can a country hide from the inevitable? It’s already entered most of the world’s counties. To me, it seems like a bad omen that is in everyone’s minds. And we’re safe from it now. But there’s also no escaping it. Like a plaster, is it better to get it over and done with and deal with it instead of trying to run from the inevitable?
Like many young people, I’m not overly concerned about my own safety and getting the virus myself, but rather concerned for those around me.
Tonga is an isolated country, as is its healthcare system. The government has done a very good (if not a tad over the top) job of keeping COVID-19 out of Tonga for now. And I hope for the people of Tonga that it stays this way. But only time will tell.
So how did Tonga get to this point? How did it make sure COVID-19 didn’t enter, and, more importantly, how did it keep coronavirus out?
If you’re thinking of taking the opportunity to come to Tonga as a country without coronavirus and escape the pandemic, think again. I can’t even leave, let alone other people get in.
In fact, the Queen and Prince of Tonga are not yet allowed back in.
So if they can’t, you can’t either.
And the thousands of Tongans stuck abroad are certainly higher up the list than you.
Commercial flights stopped entering Tonga on the 21st March. This is the last time tourists entered the country. The last commercial flight tourists were allowed to leave the country was the 19th of March - the day I arrived here.
Since then, the country has been completely closed off, apart from weekly Air New Zealand flights that have started recently to a few select destinations. Although, strict rules apply when transiting through New Zealand meaning that if you’re not a New Zealand resident, it’s pretty difficult to get any of these. Let alone thinking about the transit rules in the on-going destinations from New Zealand and afterwards.
There have been no Fiji Airways flights since March.
These are the only two operators operating flights to and from Tonga.
Tonga has its own domestic airway, but due to the pandemic and lack of tourists, this airline quickly went bust and the fleet grounded. There are rumours that the new domestic airway will be starting soon, so domestic tourism can continue.
When the lockdown was first lifted (see below) Tonga had a couple of repatriation flights. A couple of these went through the US, which meant that you needed to have an ESTA transit visa, which is not available to a lot of people - and certainly not available to someone who has visited North Korea as many times as I have.
There was one repatriation flight that went to Germany and took about 2-3 days to get there. This went in mid-April and, at the time, it didn’t seem like the right choice to make. The pandemic was just kicking off in Europe and how could I make my way back to the UK from Germany? Germany’s rules meant you had to be out of the country back on the way to your own country within 24 hours of arriving. Should I hire a car and drive to the UK? No, my driving license was washed away in a cyclone (another story), are there flights? Are there trains? It all seemed like too much at the wrong time. I also have a big suitcase of most of my stuff in Fiji (another long story) so I need to get to that at some point...
So I decided to stay.
That was the last repatriation flight out of Tonga.
Until the start of July, there had been no repatriation flights to get Tongans stuck abroad back into Tonga. The first one came in and was limited to less than 60 passengers; with doctors and nurses prioritised. They had to get COVID-19 tests in Fiji and again on arrival. Of course, this flight was scheduled a couple of weeks prior to it actually happening, due to various difficulties along the way. But finally, it came in. This is where Tonga started to get really over the top. Never have I seen a display like this in North Korea or China. Those who came from the airport all travelled together to a designated quarantine hotel. This hotel is in the city centre on the waterfront. The passengers were transported in several buses with police and military escorts to the hotel. Now, the entire hotel and surrounding area remain a quarantine zone, completely off-limits. The road with the hotel on it, or in other words the main road on the waterfront, has been sectioned off so you can’t even drive past the hotel.
These Tongans stay here for 2 weeks in strict quarantine, before going back to their homes and quarantining for another week there before they can enter society.
With so much hassle for one flight of fewer than 60 people, it might be a while before all the other Tongans stuck abroad can think of coming home.
The lockdown in Tonga began just a few days after the last flight arrived in, and it was very strict. There were no bars, no restaurants, and very few shops open. It was not allowed to go to different villages except for essential reasons, i.e. essential shopping. I even got stopped running and cycling as I tried to cross village borders. (Villages are just 10-15 minutes walk away from each other, so you can imagine the small space in which you were allowed to be…!)
Tongan houses are generally quite big with big gardens. People usually live with a big family group, so I suppose the lockdown wasn’t that big of a deal for most Tongans.
I was staying on the beach, so I was pretty lucky too (until Cyclone Harold came and washed away the house, that is.)
Originally, the lockdown was supposed to last for 2 weeks. They then expanded it to 3 weeks.
During this time, if you wanted to go out for essential shopping, you had to pass police checkpoints. I stayed about 30 minutes from town, and passed through around 5-7 police checkpoints. They took down your details and made sure your purpose was valid.
During this time, I went out about once a week to do essential shopping.
In the city centre, the capital city centre, no one was there. It was odd to see another person or another car. Nothing was open. Only one shop. So that makes 2 shops in total I knew were open in the country of Tonga during the lockdown. And thy weren’t busy at all. And they were well stocked.
After the lockdown was lifted, it took about another month before the new “normality” resumed. Bars, cafes and restaurants opened up slowly and in accordance with the new curfew times. People seemed reluctant to come out of their houses.
But now it seems business as usual.
Well, kind of usual.
Apart from the strict lockdown measures, there are a few measures still in place in Tonga now.
The curfew has been lifted several times, from originally 6pm, then up to 7pm, 8pm, etc… Now, it is 12am - 5am. It has been like this for the past couple of months and seems like it might remain this way for a while.
There are no rules on social distancing or mask-wearing.
There are a few shops and restaurants with social distancing, including in the Ministry of Transport and a local burger bar. But, these are really enforced so much. There’s a lady on the door at the Ministry of Transport who controls numbers and makes sure everyone is sat apart, to be fair. But once it’s your turn you go to talk to an employee there and bump into people on your way etc.
There are signs and posters up around the main city reminding people to be cautious of COVID-19, to wash their hands, and to be vigilant.
There is one shop, Costlow (Tonga’s version of Costco) where measures are the strictest. All of the staff wear masks, those at the till wearing both masks and gloves, and there are two cashiers at the till. One handles the money, the other handles the products. After every customer, the table is wiped down. There is also a massive newly installed thick plastic guard between the customer and till, with a small slit underneath to pass over shopping and money. This is inconvenient depending on the size of the products you purchased and also trying to fumble and hand over money. But I suppose it’s a good thing.
Apart from this, there’s also the obvious lack of flights both in and out of the country.
If coronavirus gets to Tonga, I envision this whole cycle repeating itself. Except it will surely be slower going from lockdown to kind of normality.
Being in Tonga during this pandemic is like watching a disaster unfold from the outside. And you’re sat on a beach helpless watching the world fall apart with nothing you can do, wondering if your friends and family are both physically and mentally safe.
I’m lucky to be here, and keep trying to think of the positives. I appreciate the opportunity I have here.
But a life inside a country without coronavirus is not a life without coronavirus.
This global pandemic is truly that, and with few places in the world to escape (if there are indeed any left to truly escape to), facing it and learning to deal with it seems like the only way to move forwards during these difficult times.
1. North Korea 🇰🇵 (UPDATE: First SUSPECTED case reported on 26th July. 28th July - Confirmed suspected case DID NOT have Coronavirus)
2. Turkmenistan 🇹🇲
3. Solomon Islands 🇸🇧
4. Vanuatu 🇻🇺
5. Samoa 🇼🇸
6. Kiribati 🇰🇮
7. Federated States of Micronesia 🇫🇲
8. Tonga 🇹🇴
9. Marshall Islands 🇲🇭
10. Palau 🇵🇼
11. Tuvalu 🇹🇻
12. Nauru 🇳🇷