Which countries are gradually improving, and which ones are battling growing or returning outbreaks? Here is the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic in the world.
First published in August 2020.
When the European Union reopened its borders to non-members on July 1, the United States found itself on the list of countries excluded from the lifting of travel restrictions. Due to its failure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, the U.S. didn’t meet the criteria applied by the bloc’s member states, which also keep travelers from Russia and Brazil, among others, from entering the EU.
The European Commission had recommended the gradual reopening of EU borders for external visitors on July 1, saying that “international travel is key for tourism and business, and for family and friends reconnecting. While we will all have to remain careful, the time has come to make concrete preparations for lifting restrictions with countries whose health situation is similar to the EU’s.”
The Commission advised member states to keep restrictions in place “for countries whose situation is worse than in the EU,” a criterium the U.S. met at the moment.
As the following chart, based on data from Johns Hopkins University, illustrates, the reopening of its borders for international travel during the summer holidays has backfired for the European Union. After successfully keeping new infections at a very low level for two months, case numbers started trending upwards in mid-July as cross-border travel fascilitated the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile the situation in the U.S. appears to be gradually improving, although it needs to be noted that the daily number of new infections is still more than twice as high as it is for the entire EU.
Most COVID-19 cases
In the current ranking of the countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases, the United States is unlikely to be overtaken in the near future, with a total that now approaches 6 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.
Brazil comes second with 3.6 million cases, closely followed by India with 3.1 million cases. No other country in the world has, so far, reached the million cases yet.
Meanwhile in the Asia-Pacific region
While countries like Thailand and South Korea have been rather successful at flattening the curve of coronavirus infections, other countries in the APAC region are still battling growing or returning outbreaks.
Despite a recent uptick of South Korean cases being barely visible in the chart, the country on Sunday experienced the most new cases in a day – 397 – since early March. It pushed the authorities to close most schools in Seoul and turn back to online classes.
Infection counts in the Indonesia and the Philippines continue to grow fast, while new infections have come under control somewhat in Singapore. Recent upticks in case numbers in Australia and Japan are now very visible in the chart that is using numbers collected by Our World in Data. Since Tuesday, Japan has recorded more COVID-19 cases in total than Singapore.
Surprisingly, there are still some countries out there that have not reported a single case of COVID-19.
The two most dubious candidates are certainly Turkmenistan and North Korea, authoritarian states that still deny the pandemic has spread within their borders. Observers do dispute that, however, stating that its almost certain both countries have experienced cases of COVID-19.
In Turkmenistan, there have been reports of people experiencing suspected coronavirus symptoms and dying while the government has remained silent.
In North Korea, there was a suspected case in the border city of Kaesong which prompted Kim Jong-un to impose a three-week lockdown on the region. That has now been lifted while state media has not commented on the outcome.
Back in April, a lack of public appearances by Kim Jong-un led to rumours that some form of crisis, possibly COVID-19, had indeed gripped the country. He later reappeared at the opening of a fertilizer factory, alive and well, after a 20 day absence. While experts dispute North Korea’s claim that it has had no cases, it is entirely possible that its isolation from the rest of the world is now working in its favour. The country was also one of the first to close its borders in response to the threat and that early action may have proven effective in containing the spread of the disease.
Excluding the censorship and secretive nature of the regimes in North Korea and Turkmenistan, 10 other countries have reliably reported no cases of COVID-19. They are all island nations located in the South Pacific: Palau, Micronesia, The Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga.
Again, this is a case where isolation is the best defense against the pandemic, though the countries are still reeling from the virus despite the lack of physical cases. Tourism is hugely important in the region and hotels and beaches are lying empty. Some governments had hoped to reopen safe air corridors to Australia and New Zealand but recent flare ups in those countries have led to those plans being put on ice. There are still some hopes that an air connection can be established with Taiwan but the volatility of the virus makes that far from certain.