EXPLAINER

The countries that have beaten coronavirus so far and those hit hardest

Registered nurses Julie Parducci and Nivekta Singh at the COVID-19 drive-through testing centre in Canberra. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Registered nurses Julie Parducci and Nivekta Singh at the COVID-19 drive-through testing centre in Canberra. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern danced for joy as she announced the nation coronavirus free last week, joining a handful of virus-free countries.

As many of the world's smallest nations are winning the fight against the disease some of the largest are grappling with staggering death tolls.

And in Australia, community transmission appears to be slowing, restrictions and border closures are slowly being removed, but health authorities say we cannot return to normal yet.

Which countries are currently virus free, and will they stay that way?

New Zealanders have returned to hand shakes and hugs since all coronavirus restrictions were lifted last week.

Ardern "did a little dance" when she got the news the country had no active cases, a huge step in her plan to eliminate the virus.

The country went into lockdown on March 25 for four weeks before gradually easing restrictions. It has had 1504 cases of the virus and 22 deaths.

Borders will remain closed for some time, said Ms Ardern, who expected new cases of the virus at some point.

"That is not a sign that we have failed; it is a reality of this virus," she said.

Montenegro reported no active cases on May 25, the Faroe Islands had no cases on May 9 and Fiji on June 5. Island nations Papua New Guinea, Seychelles and Timor-Leste have also reported no active cases.

The majority of COVID-free countries have small populations and most total case numbers remained below triple digits. Papua New Guinea had eight cases, Fiji had 18 and Timor-Leste had 24.

Monetenegro is one of the few who had cases in the hundreds. Nine people died and there were 324 cases in the country.

Despite the success in keeping the virus at bay, many continue to treat it as a real threat.

Papua New Guinea remains in a state of emergency until June 16. A curfew is still in place in Fiji and schools return at the end of June. With several Pacific Island nations now virus-free there is hope for a return to tourism.

A "Trans-Tasman travel bubble" has been touted by Australian and New Zealand governments and several Pacific Islands hope to join in. The Cook Islands has already relaxed restrictions for those travelling from New Zealand.

Have any countries remained free of coronavirus entirely?

Yes. John Hopkins University data tracking coronavirus across the globe has listed the virus in at least 188 countries, with more than 7.5 million cases internationally.

The countries which have not yet recorded any cases include North Korea, Vanuatu, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Turkmenistan and Tuvalu.

Port Vila, Vanuatu. It is one of a few countries that has never reported a case of COVID-19.

Port Vila, Vanuatu. It is one of a few countries that has never reported a case of COVID-19.

Many of these nations closed their borders early, an easier task for small, island countries. The Marshall Islands stopped travel from China as early as January.

While North Korea has not reported any cases there is skepticism around the reliability of that information given its proximity to hard hit countries including China and South Korea.

Which countries are currently the worst affected? 

The United States and the United Kingdom have been the hardest hit by the virus, followed by Brazil.

There have been more than 113,000 deaths in the US and more than two million cases. In the UK more than 41,000 people have died.

Brazil has more than double the number of cases as the UK - more than 800,000 - and more than 40,000 deaths.

The Brazilian government stopped releasing total deaths and case numbers in recent days wiping the official website and only updating with daily numbers, sparking criticism from health officials and local government.

We're doing so well in Australia, can we return to normal yet? 

If you look at the tens of thousands of deaths some countries are facing, Australia has done exceptionally well to flatten the curve.

Our total cases sit at more than 7200 and the death toll is 102. Tuesday was the first time no cases of community transmission were recorded nationally.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth reminded the community last week restrictions only began to ease four weeks ago.

Black Lives Matter Protests in Canberra. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Black Lives Matter Protests in Canberra. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Black Lives Matter protests across the country last weekend had tens of thousands of people gather together, which could lead to a jump in cases.

One Melbourne protester tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

Health authorities say it was unlikely he contracted the virus at the rally but could have been infectious.

However, Dr Coatsworth said it would be at least two weeks before the impact of the mass gatherings was known.

"We are still in the pandemic, it is still a danger to us and it is still a danger to our most vulnerable," he said.

"COVID-19 as we lift the restrictions must stay at the forefront of our minds so we can protect the most vulnerable."

Will Australia ever be coronavirus free?

Australia wasn't aiming to eliminate coronavirus, although it was New Zealand's plan from the beginning.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the outset of the pandemic we were aiming to suppress the virus by flattening the curve.

However, as the curve remains flat and many states continue to record only a few cases of community transmission, experts say elimination is possible.

Tuesday was the first day no cases of community transmission were reported in Australia since the peak of the pandemic.

Professor of Biostatistics at the University of South Australia Adrian Esterman wrote for The Conversation, that while it was unlikely COVID-19 would ever be entirely eradicated (which requires it to be preventable and treatable), it was under control in Australia.

"The next step in both [Australia and New Zealand] will be sentinel surveillance, where random testing is carried out in selected groups. Hopefully in time these results will be able to show us COVID-19 has been eliminated," he wrote.

This story The places that have beaten COVID-19 first appeared on The Canberra Times.