North Korea maintains it has recorded no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, despite reports from South Korea suggesting that more than 100 of Pyongyang’s soldiers have died and that the regime is struggling to get a handle on the epidemic.
A Monday report in North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper detailed Pyongyang’s latest efforts to prevent coronavirus taking hold, but claimed: “The infectious disease did not flow into our country yet.”
However, also on Monday, the South Korea-based Daily NK news website claimed that as many as 1,800 North Korean soldiers have succumbed to the virus, with thousands more quarantined.
Citing an anonymous military source, Daily NK reported that a military document stated the soldiers died in January and February and that another 3,700 remain under quarantine. Most of those who died were deployed on or close to the border with China, Daily NK said.
Newsweek has contacted the North Korean embassies in the U.K. and Switzerland to request comment on the Daily NK report.
Daily NK—which says its stories are sourced via a network of North Korean informants—is often cited by international media organizations and has previously been contacted by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service for information.
Rodong Sinmun published a warning Monday that it is “absolutely unacceptable” for any North Koreans to hinder government efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“Until recently, a phenomenon arose that some citizens, seeing wearing masks as burdensome, held fast to their opinion against those who require them to abide by the quarantine regulations,” the newspaper said.
Though the regime is yet to confirm any coronavirus cases, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Monday that 10,000 North Koreans have been placed in quarantine, some 40 percent of which have since been released.
North Korea could be highly vulnerable to the outbreak given its long border with China, limited medical infrastructure and the poor health of its inhabitants.
The quarantine period for at-risk people is one month, though those who may have been exposed to infected foreigners are being isolated at home or designated facilities for more than 40 days.
Rodong Sinmun said Monday that it is “unpredictable” how much of a threat the outbreak may pose. It added that “work to completely lock down all routes through which the infectious disease can flow in—the border, sea, and air—should be continued with high intensity.”
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported last week that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has asked South Korea President Moon Jae-in for help stemming the coronavirus outbreak, suggesting official reports from the North might be concealing the extent of the problem.
Worldwide, more than 110,000 people have been infected with COVID-19. Some 62,000 have recovered, while 3,800 have died.
World Health Organisation advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)Hygiene advice
- Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
- Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.
- If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
- Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.
- Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
- Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
- Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
- Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
- Do not reuse single-use masks.