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World’s last coronavirus-free corners hold tight as fears rise

PALAU: A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific may seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic — but residents on Palau say life right now is far from idyllic.

The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere.

The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometres from its nearest neighbours, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific, which has acted as a buffer against the virus.

Along with strict travel restrictions, this seems to have kept infections at bay for a number of nations including Tonga, the Solomons Islands, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

But remoteness is not certain to stop the relentless march of the new disease.

The Northern Mariana Islands confirmed its first cases over the weekend, followed by a suspected death on Monday.

Klamiokl Tulop, a 28-year-old artist and single mum, is hopeful Palau can avoid the fate of Wuhan, New York or Madrid — where better-resourced health services were overrun.

But she describes a growing sense of dread, a fear that the virus is coming or could already be on the island undetected.

“You can feel a rising tension and anxiety just shopping,” she told AFP. “Stores are crowded even more during non-payday weeks.”

There have been several scares on Palau, including a potential case that saw one person placed into quarantine this week as authorities await test results.

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