Coronavirus: North Korea’s virus-free claim met with suspicion

by Rushda Fathima Khan

Despite the fact that cases of coronavius surpassed one million worldwide, North Korea has claimed that its country has only recorded a single case.

Though the claim was met with increasing suspicion, a senior health official in Pyongyang has asserted the the claim is true.

He stated that the country had shut down its borders after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China in January and imposed strict containment measures.

Pak Myong Su, a director of the North’s central emergency anti-epidemic headquarters, asserted that the efforts had been completely successful.

“Not one single person has been infected with the novel coronavirus in our country so far,” Pak told AFP.

“We have carried out preemptive and scientific measures such as inspections and quarantine for all personnel entering our country and thoroughly disinfecting all goods, as well as closing borders and blocking sea and air lanes,” he added.

However, experts have warned that North Korea is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its weak healthcare system, and defectors have accused Pyongyang of covering up an outbreak.

The top US military commander in South Korea, General Robert Abrams, said Pyongyang’s assertion that North Korea had no cases was untrue.

“I can tell you that is an impossible claim based on all of the intel that we have seen,” Abrams told VOA News.

Donald Trump previously claimed that North Korea is going through something and offered cooperation in the anti-epidemic work in a personal letter to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

“I heard there are many deaths in North Korea, but the authorities are not saying that it’s caused by the coronavirus, ” Choi Jung-hun, a former North Korean doctor who fled to the South in 2012, told AFP.

As part of its anti-virus efforts, Pyongyang has imposed thousands of its own people and hundreds of foreigners into isolation and mounted disinfection drives, with state media constantly exhorting citizens to obey health directives.

Published images have shown the universal use of face masks, with the exception of Kim, who has never been seen wearing one, even though for several weeks the officers alongside him when he supervised firing exercises donned black coverings.

More recently, his aides have been seen without face masks, although Choi said that did not signal the North’s containment efforts had been widely successful.

In February, Russia’s foreign ministry said it had provided 1,500 diagnostic test kits at North Korea’s request “due to the persisting risk of the new Covid-19”.

Nearly every other country in the world has reported coronavirus cases. Aside from China, South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks.

Recorded cases of infection across 188 countries now exceed one million, and these include 51,718 deaths as of Thursday based on official country data and World Health Organization figures.

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