The new coronavirus has defied geographical and political boundaries, leaving fewer than two dozen countries on the Earth without a reported case of COVID-19.
There have been more than 570,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease, including more than 26,000 deaths and nearly 130,000 recoveries as of Friday, a day after the United States surpassed China to have the most known instances in the world. The remaining nations without a known single novel coronavirus case, according to a review by Newsweek, are located primarily on the continent of Africa and isolated Pacific island states, but others were much closer to major outbreaks.
COVID-19 was first observed late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province. The disease quickly spread across the country and beyond its borders, with nearby South Korea among the first to be seriously afflicted by the outbreak. As of Friday, however, rival North Korea, reported it remained unharmed.
North Korea, which borders both China and South Korea, was among the first countries in the world to begin closing its borders and establishing other intensive anti-epidemic measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Last week, Pyongyang health officials ordered the release of thousands of quarantined patients said to be cleared of the disease, although hundreds more remain under observation and isolation.
North Korea officials announced new measures Friday, including tighter controls on water tanks and reservoirs, thorough disinfection of currency notes and the disposal of waste from vessels docked in territorial waters.
Another secretive, tightly-controlled state in Asia has yet to report any instances of COVID-19 despite bordering a hard-hit nation. Turkmenistan has sent medical and food supplies to neighboring Iran, where cases exceeded 32,000, but has not recorded any infections at home.
Turkmenistan has in some ways followed in North Korea's footsteps, heavily restricting travel, organizing mass clean-ups and awareness campaigns and advertising local remedies with alleged anti-viral qualities. On Friday, the government's official website reported that the country "is continuing to work on bringing Turkmen citizens back home from abroad because of the challenging situation caused by the spread of the coronavirus."
Nearby Tajikistan too has no confirmed COVID-19 cases on paper. Although authorities here, too, have enacted some new restrictions on travel and public gatherings in the wake of the pandemic, the country organized lavish, crowded celebrations for Nowruz and other festivities in recent days in defiance of World Health Organization recommendations to limit large groups of people.
The Persian New Year was far quieter in Iran itself and other Middle Eastern countries. The region has witnessed a rapid rise in infections, leaving only the Arab World's poorest state, Yemen, officially absent of any coronavirus illnesses. The civil war-torn nation, plagued by conflict, hunger and disease, is already undergoing what United Nations officials have deemed to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis and the U.S. State Department's recent decision to cut assistance to rebel-controlled areas, including the capital Sanaa, may impact Yemen's ability to prevent, detect and fight the infection.
COVID-19 also was not detected in the international community's newest member, South Sudan. The Sub-Saharan country's civil war ended last month with a unity deal between rival factions but scores of internally displaced persons remain in densely-populated camps potentially at risk for disease outbreaks such as the new coronavirus.
Elsewhere in Africa, the countries of Burundi, Zimbabwe and land-locked Lesotho have also not registered a single COVID-19 case despite all bordering South Africa, which has emerged as the most heavily-impacted on the continent with nearly 1,000 confirmed instances. East Africa's Burundi and Malawi also have no novel coronavirus disease cases on record, nor does West Africa's Sierra Leone or the island nations of Comoros and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Though COVID-19 has quickly crossed seas, several island states of the South Pacific have also reportedly been spared. These include the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Many of these countries have resorted to drastic lockdown in order to prevent the spread of a disease that threatened to overwhelm the healthcare systems of much larger, wealthier nations across the globe.
The State Department announced Friday that it has so far donated $100 million in emergency health assistance from USAID's Global Health Emergency Reserve Fund and $110 million in humanitarian assistance from USAID's International Disaster Assistance account in addition to the 64 most at-risk countries in the world, as well as $64 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Others such as Russia, China and Cuba have also stepped up critical assistance and deployed personnel to support vulnerable populations around the world.