It’s impossible for North Korea not to have a single case of coronavirus
Jung H Pak
In stark contrast to neighbours South Korea, which has 8320 cases of COVID-19, and 81 deaths, as of yesterday, according to the World Health Organization, not to mention China, where the figure is 81,116 and 3,221, the DPRK continues to insist it has not recorded a single instance. Given the amount of cross-border trade between North Korea and China, such an outcome would appear extremely improbable to say the least. Jung H Pak, a former CIA analyst on North Korea, who now works for the US-based Brookings Institute, went even further, saying: “It’s impossible for North Korea not to have a single case of coronavirus.”
Pyong Yang has insisted measures including closing its borders, reducing trade with China and putting restrictions on foreign diplomats and international staff based in China have boosted its battle for what it calls “national survival”.
Trade restrictions only came into force after the official confirmation of the outbreak in January – and given scientists now believe the first case probably occurred in November, if not before, it seems highly probable some cases will have crossed into North Korea.
In addition, black market traders are likely to have continued to cross the border even after the tough new rules came into force
General Robert Abrams, commander of US Forces Korea, has pointed to the lack of military activity in North Korea in recent weeks as evidence of the impact the pandemic is having.
Gen Adams told reporters on Friday he was confident cases were occurring.
He added: “It is a closed-off nation, so we can’t say emphatically that they have cases, but we’re fairly certain they do.
“What I do know is that their armed forces had been fundamentally in a lockdown for about 30 days and only recently have they started routine training again.
“As one example, they didn’t fly an airplane for 24 days.”
South Korea’s Unification Ministry claimed last month Pyongyang had reported to the WHO it had tested 141 suspected cases, all of which had come back negative.
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South Korean media outlets, citing anonymous sources, suggested this was not true, and that there had in fact been fatalities.
Speaking last month, journalist Roy Calley, whose book, Look With Your Eyes and Tell The World, likewise voiced his doubts about the country’s claims.
He told Express.co.uk: “If North Korea has closed its borders to tourists, then you can guarantee it has a problem with the virus as they are still desperate to allow people in.
“Also China is its closest ally, so this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.”
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He also feared for the impact a widespread outbreak would have, adding: “As for dealing with it? My sense is that it won’t be able to.
“I was never taken to a hospital on my visits, but hearing how certain people I knew had been off work due to illnesses and sickness that could be treated easily in the UK, suggests there won’t be an infrastructure.”
He predicted the country would struggle to contain the outbreak, pointing out the famine which hit the country in the mid-90s which is believed to have cost the lives of up to 3.5million people.
However, irrespective of what happens, any thought of regime change was highly fanciful, Mr Calley believed.
He said: “They will almost certainly seek help from outside, but nothing will result in either attitude change or regime change.
“The famine of the 90s proved that. The WHO will help but the country will continue as normal.
The 38 North website, which monitors North Korean activities, also said the country was ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak.
A blog written by Esther S Im and Andray Abrahamian said: “An outbreak could be devastating given the poor condition of North Korea’s public health sector and swift international cooperation would be needed for containment and treatment should that happen as part of global health management.
“North Korea should also actively facilitate short-term cooperation by reinstating access for relevant aid agencies and lifting restrictions for aid workers to return to and travel within the country.
“In the long run, the DPRK needs to engage with the international community more proactively to build the capacity of its own public health system and workers to effectively deal with this potential crisis.
“North Korea emerged from SARS and Ebola (obviously) unscathed. We cannot count on the same result for COVID-19.”
Express.co.uk has contacted the WHO to ask them to comment on North Korea’s ongoing claims.
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