North Korea is one of the few places in the world to claim zero COVID-19 cases.
Experts have widely doubted this claim, but North Korean officials remained insistent that they had coronavirus outbreaks under control, says BBC. As of Wednesday, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un admitted the country faced a “grave incident” related to the pandemic.
- Here’s what we know about COVID-19 inside North Korea.
What has the COVID-19 pandemic been like in North Korea?
In January 2020, North Korea sealed its borders to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country. Eighteen months later, the border closure has damaged the economy and contributed to a worsening food situation, reports the Deseret News.
- Still, North Korea claims it has had no COVID-19 cases, says CNN.
- According to reports from North Korean defectors and international aid workers via CNN, the health care system in North Korea is weak, often lacking necessary supplies. The system is unlikely to be able to handle mass COVID-19 outbreaks.
To prevent — or manage — outbreaks, the country instituted strict public health measures — so strict that at least two people were executed for failing to comply, reports CNN. The measures have continued throughout the last year and a half.
What does Kim Jong Un’s comment about the pandemic mean?
In a rare acknowledgment of the strain that COVID-19 has brought, Kim Jong Un spoke of a “great crisis” resulting from the negligence of senior officials, reports The Associated Press.
- What is the “great crisis”? Kim did not specify, leaving experts and officials to decipher the words, says NBC News.
According to Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification, “something significant happened and it was big enough to warrant a reprimanding of senior officials. This could mean mass infections or some sort of situation where a lot of people were put at direct risk of infections,” per the AP.
- This could include a small break of quarantine, a mass outbreak — potentially along the porous North Korea-China border — or something else entirely, says BBC.
What’s next for North Korea?
Both China and South Korea have voiced their willingness to aid North Korea in the event of a major outbreak, reports NBC News.
- South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun said that “during this pandemic era we have publicly expressed our willingness to help, ranging from PCR tests to whatever you can imagine,” per NBC News.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that “if necessary, China will actively consider providing assistance to the DPRK,” per the AP.
Kim’s recent remarks could be laying the political groundwork to ask for additional assistance in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, says NBC News.