Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 July 2020

Coronavirus: 10 far-flung places that are untouched by Covid-19

A look at life in some of the remotest communities on earth that are far from the current crisis

A view over the town of Longyearbyen in summer. Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
A view over the town of Longyearbyen in summer. Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

With more than 1.5 million cases of coronavirus reported across 209 countries and territories, very few populations remain unaffected.

Yet if current travel restrictions were lifted and we were able to move more freely, might some of the world's more remote communities be a safer bet to shelter from the pandemic?

Heading off to far-flung Pacific Ocean islands or even the Arctic tundra might seem like a sensible, if somewhat drastic, option.

But before you pack your bags it might be an idea to do some homework first.

Here, our look at living in some of the most isolated places in the world reveals there is every reason to exercise caution.

La Rinconada

A view of La Rinconada, the highest permanent settlement in the world, in Puno, Peru on November 1, 2016. Sebastian Castañeda / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
A view of La Rinconada, the highest permanent settlement in the world, in Puno, Peru on November 1, 2016. Sebastian Castañeda / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

At 5,100 meters, this Peruvian mining town is the highest permanent settlement on Earth.

The lure of La Rinconda is gold, with a boom from 2001 to 2009 boosting the population to 30,000 people.

Conditions are grim, with no plumbing or sanitation, while hypoxia, an altitude sickness than can lead to death, is an everyday hazard.

Miners often work 30 days without pay in the hope the ore they can collect free on the 31st day contains gold.

Mercury, used to extract the gold from rock, has contaminated the land and polluted water supplies as far as Lake Titicaca.

Longyearbyen

A view over the town of Longyearbyen in summer. Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
A view over the town of Longyearbyen in summer. Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The world’s most northerly town, Longyearbyen is on the west coast of Spitzbergen, an island in the north of Norway.

There are no roads connecting the town with other settlements, with transport options including snow mobile and boats, while Svalbard Airport connects the population of 2,700.

Coal mining continued until the late 1950s, with the town rebuilt after the Second World War when it was destroyed by the German battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst.

No-one is born here, because pregnant women are required to fly to the mainland three weeks before giving birth, where hospitals can deal with emergencies.

Death is also complicated. The permafrost means no-one can be buried, so bodies are also flown out for funerals.

Because of the danger of coronavirus in a community with only limited medical services, all visitors were ordered to leave on March 15.

Ittoqqortoormiit

East Greenland town Ittoqqortoormiit. Getty Images
East Greenland town Ittoqqortoormiit. Getty Images

On the east coast of Greenland, this community of just under 500 people is as difficult to spell as it is to get to. It is also the most remote community in the Western Hemisphere.

Hunting is big here, along with some fishing, hampered by the fact that sea ice blocks access to the town for nine months of the year. Otherwise, contact with the rest of the world is by helicopter.

The town was founded in 1925 and its name means “Big-House Dwellers” in the local dialect.

It is too cold for trees, but has some tourists from Denmark during the few ice free months.

Being mauled by a polar bear is a much bigger risk than coronavirus. A visiting reporter from the London Daily Telegraph last September was told “never leave without a rifle.”

Palmerston Island

Palmerston Island, Cook Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean. Getty Images
Palmerston Island, Cook Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean. Getty Images

This atoll in the middle of the Pacific is part of the Cook Islands, whose capital Rarotonga is 800 kilometres away and administered jointly with New Zealand, a distant 3,000km.

There is no air service, so Palmerston Island can only be reached by boat. The good news is that a telephone was recently installed.

The island’s claim to fame is that all but three of its 70-odd inhabitants are descended from William Marsters, a sailor from Gloucester, England, who settled there in 1863, along with three wives.

The local accent still reflects his West Country burr, as does the surname which originally was probably Masters.

Located in the tropics, Palmerston Island is also prone to destructive cyclones.

Utqiagvik

A street lined with pink and yellow houses in Barrow (Utqiagvik), Arctic Alaska, USA. Getty Images
A street lined with pink and yellow houses in Barrow (Utqiagvik), Arctic Alaska, USA. Getty Images

This Alaskan town started the New Year in lockdown, not from an early bout of Covid-19, but because of rabies.

The cause of the quarantine was a rabid fox that bit a local dog, not an unusual occurrence in Utgiagvik.

Originally called Barrow, the town changed its name in 2016, to the Inuit for “gathering wild roots,” or possibly potato, or maybe snowy owl. Around 4,500 people live here, the most northerly town in the USA.

Around 2,000km from the North Pole, only 2.6 per cent of the world is further from the Equator.

Snow generally falls in October and only thaws in May, with the Sun below the horizon for 66 days. The area is one of the cloudiest places in the world.

The town’s biggest claim to fame is that it is where the American actor and humorist Will Rogers died in a plane crash in 1959.

Tristan da Cunha

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas' town on Tristan da Cunha Island in the South Atlantic. Getty Images
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas' town on Tristan da Cunha Island in the South Atlantic. Getty Images

Anyone with coronavirus is likely to realise they have it before they reach Tristan da Cunha, given the shortest journey to the island is a week-long boat trip from South Africa.

Just to be sure though, the island council recently imposed a total ban on visitors “until further notice”.

A British Overseas Territory, Tristan, as the locals call it, is nearly 2,500km from Cape Town and nearly 10,000km from London and the mother country. Not for nothing is it called the world’s most remote island.

Settled by Britain in the 19th Century, Napoleon died here in exile. Tristan was completely cut-off from the outside world from 1909 to 1919, when a passing Royal Navy cruiser stopped to tell them of the First World War.

There is no air connection, nor mobile phone network, and only a single internet cafe. The island was becoming a popular cruise ship stop until this was halted by Covid-19.

Oymyakon

Oymakon village at dawn. Known as the "Pole of Cold", the coldest ever temperature recorded in Oymyakon was -71.2C. Amos Chapple / Shutterstock
Oymakon village at dawn. Known as the "Pole of Cold", the coldest ever temperature recorded in Oymyakon was -71.2C. Amos Chapple / Shutterstock

Social distancing is not really a concern in Oymyakon, where temperatures right now are a balmy -8 Centigrade.

This remote Siberian town is one of the coldest places on Earth, with winter temperatures dropping to as low -71C. Schools only close when the mercury drops below -50C.

Life here is determined by the cold. Vehicle engines are left permanently running to stop them freezing. Because the ground is always frozen, no crops grow, and most people eat largely meat and fish.

Ice cubes made from horse blood and macaroni are a popular snack. Even vodka freezes if left outside. Bonfires are lit for several days to thaw the ground to bury the dead.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the community, whose numbers have dropped by nearly two thirds in recent years, to around 800.

Summer temperatures now peak well over freezing, bring the risk of fires, new diseases, and buildings collapsing as the permafrost melts.

Villa Las Estrellas

Villa las Estrellas, in Chile's Frei base in Antarctica, where 64 families live, on March 11, 2014. AFP PHOTO / VANDERLEI ALMEIDA 
Villa las Estrellas, in Chile's Frei base in Antarctica, where 64 families live, on March 11, 2014. AFP PHOTO / VANDERLEI ALMEIDA 

Keep going past the beaches of Rio, the rolling pampas of Argentina and the snowy peaks of Chile, and at last you reach Villa Las Estrellas, one of only two civilian settlements in Antarctica.

One condition of moving to the “Village of the Stars” is the removal of your appendix, since health care is limited. There is a post office, a community centre and a souvenir shop, run by local women.

Villa Las Estrellas made headlines when the weather station recorded 18.3C in February this year, a record high for Antarctica.

Spare a thought, though, for those further south, where scientists at the Antarctic research stations are completely cut off during the winter months. For the moment though, it remains the only continent completely free of coronavirus.

Siwa Oasis

Date palms in the Siwa oasis, Sahara desert, Egypt. Getty Images
Date palms in the Siwa oasis, Sahara desert, Egypt. Getty Images

Around 33,000 people live in this isolated oasis, nearly 600km from Cairo.

Long cut off from the rest of Egypt, its Berber population have developed a distinct culture, which once permitted same sex marriage among men.

The Siyaha festival celebrates the community’s patron saint, while a traditional dish served at Eid Al Adha is the skin of a sheep filled with its innards.

In 1893 it was visited by the German explorer Herman Burchardt, who would go on to take the first photographs of Abu Dhabi.

Plentiful fresh water springs mean dates and olives are cultivated, but it is tourism that it the mainstay of the economy - or was until coronavirus.

Kerguelen Islands

FRANCE - FEBRUARY 9: Aerial view of the Kerguelen islands, French Southern and Antarctic Lands (overseas department of the French Republic). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
FRANCE - FEBRUARY 9: Aerial view of the Kerguelen islands, French Southern and Antarctic Lands (overseas department of the French Republic). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

All you need to know about the Kerguelen Islands is that their unofficial name is the “Islands of desolation,” or “Iles de la Désolation” in French.

It is France who administers the islands, one of the most isolated places on Earth and over 3,000km from the nearest population in Madagascar.

Close to the Antarctic, rough seas keep the islands ice free, with the only connection by ship.

Not including a flock of sheep, the population of between 50 to 100 consists of French scientists at a research station, who may reflect that right now at least life on the “Iles de la Désolation” is better than being back home.

Updated: April 12, 2020 01:38 PM

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