Coronavirus: Discover how the world's most off-the-grid places are coping

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At this point, coronavirus has touched nearly every corner of the Earth and hospitals have flooded with COVID-19 patients. But in some off-the-grid areas, the nearest intensive care units can be hours – if not a day’s or more journey – away.

From island Amazonian towns and villages to the Pitcairn Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, these remote locations are only accessible by boat or plane, and hospitals are not easily accessible.

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In far-off Alaskan villages, typically reached only by plane or snowmobile, some opted in March to further isolate themselves by banning nonemergency travel. One acting city administrator told news outlet ProPublica that previous epidemics had devastated their tiny communities, and this time around, leaders sought to protect the village elders. Most Alaska villages have local health clinics, but any serious illness or emergency requires the patient to be flown to the nearest hub city for treatment, ProPublica reported.

While their remoteness protects them from the novel coronavirus’ fast-moving spread, the effects of COVID-19 on these small isolated communities could be devastating.

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At least three indigenous people died in April in Brazil’s Rehebe village. The village, home to Yanomami people, is situated on the Uraricoeara River and there are an estimated 38,000 Yanomami people today, according to Survival International, an organization that aims to protect indigenous rights.

Brazil has been especially hard hit by the virus, and the virus has touched even the country’s most remote villages.

The virus is guessed to have entered the area via miners who had illegally entered the indigenous territory, the Socio-Environmental Institute said in a statement on its website. One of the Yanomami victims had been in the intensive care unit in a hospital in Boa Vista in the neighboring Roraima state.

An Indigenous child from Yanomami ethnic group is seen, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the 4th Surucucu Special Frontier Platoon of the Brazilian army in the municipality of Alto Alegre, state of Roraima, Brazil July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
An Indigenous child from Yanomami ethnic group is seen, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the 4th Surucucu Special Frontier Platoon of the Brazilian army in the municipality of Alto Alegre, state of Roraima, Brazil July 1, 2020. (Reuters)

But on the opposite side of the globe, the Pitcairn Islands, a secluded British overseas territory with some 50 residents only accessible by a 32-hour boat ride, has no hospital to treat quotidian maladies or the novel coronavirus.

Residents must travel to New Zealand for major medical treatment, and residents may not be able to return to the island for months after procedures.

The government suspended all passenger travel on March 12 in response to the pandemic. The Pitcairn only has one ship, the Silver Supporter.

“As a small island economy, we are heavily affected by these types of changes and hope to return to business as usual as soon as possible. In these times we are reminded, no matter how remote, we are all intricately connected as global citizens,” a press release on the country’s tourism website said.

The Pitcairn Islands, comprised of four small volcanic islands in the South Pacific, is the world’s tiniest population.

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With around 50 residents, Pitcairn’s economy is described as a “nanoeconomy,” according to the country’s immigration website, and while it relies on budgetary aid from the UK, it is seeking to develop alternative sources of private sector revenue – including tourism.

Oeno Island lies about 120 km northwest of Pitcairn. (Screengrab:
Oeno Island lies about 120 km northwest of Pitcairn. (Screengrab:

“Gross sales to tourists are worth an estimated $6,000 to $10,000 per family, per annum. Home stay services also bring in substantial income to the many households which participate – a total of almost $40,000 in the 2015-16 season,” data on the country’s website read.

But with tourism still halted, the money tourists bring will also stop.

For another British overseas territory, the situation looks similar to that of Pitcairn’s. The Falkland Islands, has watched its tourism figures plummet. In the five months preceding March, nearly 82,000 tourists arrived to the Port Stanley, the Islands’ capital, by sea, the Polar Journal reported.

But lacking capacity to properly protect its population from an outbreak, they have had to rethink their strategy With its population of around 3,000, nearly one-sixth are considered high risk for coronavirus, being elderly or having preexisting conditions.

The islands closed for non-essential travel on April 7, and according to Worldometers data, 13 coronavirus cases have been reported, and no deaths. But because of its remoteness, tests are shipped to Britain, some 8,000 miles away, for processing and take close to 10 days to return, TIME reported. Further complicating matter, Chile and Uruguay, which typically receive emergency medical evacuations from the Falklands, restricted entry for foreigners, meaning health issues must be addressed at the local hospital in Stanley.

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