North Korea confirms COVID-19

How is North Korea dealing with its first suspected case of coronavirus?

Photo by Random Institute on Unsplash.

— 3 minute read — By Maggie Gannon

Throughout the last few months North Korea has remained fairly quiet about how coronavirus may or may not be affecting them. As a country already so isolated from the rest of the world, the international media found it difficult to come to a conclusion as to whether the country would ever become infected with the virus. Towards the beginning of the pandemic, reports suggested that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un was adamant the virus had not been reported in the country and that heavy restrictions would ultimately leave no place for the virus. However, suspicions have been recently raised after several thousands of citizens have been quarantined in the southern city of Kaesong which borders the demilitarised zone with South Korea due to a suspected confirmed case.

The reported lockdown of the city of Kaesong began on the 26th July after a young man who had previously defected to South Korea had reportedly started to display COVID-19 symptoms despite South Korean health officials denying the man was a classified patient or an individual who had tested positive. This lockdown, however, is the largest regional reported lockdown in the country since suspicions arose around how North Korea have been dealing with the virus surfaced, which has led to a whole host of other questions regarding how accurate the picture we hold of the country truly is.

A number of foreign analysts were not convinced by Kim Jong-Un‘s early remarks, when he insisted no cases of the virus had been reported, due to the nations close relationship with China both geographically and politically. The 1,400km, fairly porous border remained open until January despite China reporting cases of the virus as early as December. It appears that the continued closure of North Korea’s border with China is adding to their economy’s serious decline. 

Since 2016, China has accounted for 95 percent of the world’s trade with North Korea but the coronavirus has made the importation of many essential goods essential goods such as flour and rice difficult, leading to food shortages and astronomical prices in supermarkets. On top of this, the price of medicine has risen considerably, leading the government to ask hospitals to start manufacturing their own medicines despite the lack of proper equipment and materials. Given North Korea’s history of famine in the 1990s, the country’s lack of proper infrastructure and stable medical services would ultimately lead to a disaster if a pandemic was to severely hit the nation. 

Although the picture of what this country currently looks like remains hazy, concerning reports from North Korean news networks, such as Daily NK, have suggested perhaps the country’s most well-known and wealthiest city of Pyongyang is also suffering due to a lack of imports from China, with some residents having not received food rations since March.  Being such a secluded nation has unsurprisingly led to infection rate levels remaining at low levels, but these figures alone do not account for the potential challenges this country may face over the next few months. North Korea, although isolated, relies heavily on trade with China and other small parts of Asia for daily amenities; without it, any future outbreaks could be devastating.