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What Is the Truth About COVID-19 in North Korea?

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  • What Is the Truth About COVID-19 in North Korea?

    What Is the Truth About COVID-19 in North Korea?

    North Korea insists there have been no coronavirus cases in the country. So why does it keep tightening restrictions, despite the heavy cost?
    By Mitch Shin
    January 06, 2021

    North Korea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, continues to insist that it has successfully grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, with no coronavirus cases confirmed since the beginning of the pandemic.

    According to the country’s state-controlled news agencies, North Korea has taken aggressive measures to contain the virus, such as shutting down its borders with China and banning entry from abroad since China confirmed the first coronavirus cases in Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic.

    While many countries hesitated to close down their borders and cancel flights in the early stages of the pandemic, fearing a negative impact on their economics and thus on the approval ratings of governments, North Korea was not one to think about how to ....

    The COVID-19 Situation

    Even though the North says that it has not had a single confirmed coronavirus case, it has not stopped tightening restrictions. Over the past year, North Korea has increased the number of tests and has on occasion locked down entire cities such as Kaesong, Hyesan, Nampo, and Pyongyang, according to the Information Committee lawmakers.

    Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has drastically decreased his public appearances, compared to his actions and remarks in past years. Cautious measures to keep Kim safe from the virus should not be necessary if North Korea has not had any COVID-19 cases domestically and has banned entry from abroad.

    Despite its claims to the contrary, North Korea’s restrictions and economic data suggest that “it is having trouble with containing the virus and it had already confirmed coronavirus cases,” according to Park Won-gon, a professor of international relations at Handong Global University in South Korea.

    “It is unreasonable to say that there is no coronavirus case in North Korea,” said Park. “Considering there was a period of about a month during which China had not clearly revealed information about the coronavirus, even though it confirmed cases in Wuhan in late 2019, more than one coronavirus case must have entered into North Korea, but they might not know.” Park added that the North was actively engaging in trade with China during that time, making the spread of COVID-19 across the border likely.

    Amid North Korea’s drastic and harsh measures to prevent the spread of the virus, experts believe that the North’s economic situation is and will continue to be very bad. Beyond negative data from economic indicators, North Koreans are likely suffering from famine and starvation due to food shortages.

    Some also suggest that China may be secretly providing aid to North Korea by sea or other routes, but it is doubtful whether North Korea, which has taken a simple but extreme pandemic strategy of blocking every route from the outside world, is actively receiving aid from China.
    The South Korean government has publicly said it will provide the North with the necessary aid for its anti-virus activities whenever it needs it, but Pyongyang has flatly refused, saying that it does not need help from other countries.

    Last month, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the coronavirus outbreak had made the North more like its insular self, pointing to the fact that the North had not answered Seoul’s offer of support in the fight against COVID-19. A few days later, Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s younger sister who is also known as the North’s de facto No. 2 leader, reacted harshly and made clear the North will not seek or accept any support from the South.

    Based on what Kang and other South Korean officials have said, the South Korean government is seeking cooperation with the North, predicting that there will eventually be confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the North. But experts say Pyongyang will not accept those offers.

    “The Moon government wants to kickstart engagement with Pyongyang via health cooperation and donating COVID tests, protective equipment, food and medicine. But for political reasons, North Korea will likely reject aid from the South and rely on China’s discreet assistance,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of Ewha University in Seoul.

    For North Korean people, not only COVID-19 but historically devastating floods in August also piled on the misery....