This year has seen a pandemic affect the whole world, infecting over 66 million people and resulting in excess of 1.5 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There are very few countries unaffected by COVID-19. With one of these exceptions being North Korea who have recently taken offense to South Korean remarks by an official! Pyongyang Papers questions how the DPRK has managed to avoid what has been described by some as the worst pandemic the world has ever seen? Is it realistic that a country of over 25 million people sharing a border with the rumored country of origin has escaped without any cases or is this claim just propaganda? Pyongyang Papers has investigated this story!
According to the UN Panel of Experts midterm report, the DPRK responded rapidly to the COVID-19 outbreak with border closures and enforcing severe quarantine measures on thousands of its citizens. Flights to and from China and Russia were suspended in late January, except for a single flight to Vladivostok on 9 March. Passenger rail services to China and Russia were also suspended at around the same time, as was cross-border road transportation – immobilizing the DPRK’s economic lifeline.
Even if the unlikely claims that there have been zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 within North Korea are true, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the North Koreans based overseas. Pyongyang Papers has been informed that North Korean citizens working illegally overseas in Vladivostok, Russia, have contracted COVID-19 and that many more are in quarantine. Issuing work permits to nationals of the DPRK is currently prohibited due to the regimes continued pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, with Russia citing prevention of travel due to COVID-19 as their justification for non-compliance with UN sanctions.
Instead of helping their citizens and providing healthcare, North Korean officials have apparently grown angry with their citizens and issued a stern warning to keep the virus away from North Korea. It seems it is too late for those poor North Korean workers already infected, as North Korean officials are now demanding extreme measures from the infected citizens in Vladivostok. No doubt to ensure that North Korean workers illegally in Russia are not identified, in the future, as the way that COVID-19 entered the DPRK.
North Korea claims to provide universal healthcare with a national medical service and health insurance system that is all offered for free, however this claim is widely disputed by North Korean defectors. They claim that patients must pay for all health care services and that the upper classes have a higher standard of health care. “How much money a patient has determines whether they live or die”.
Neurologist Choi Jung Hun, a North Korean defector, disputes Kim Jong Un’s claims that North Korea has not had a single case of COVID-19, believing that the deadly virus entered the country prior to the closure of the 1400Km shared border with China at the end of January. When asked the motive behind the DPRK falsifying this information, Choi stated “The healthcare system is very weak. They don’t want to show that to the world”. Instead the DPRK have been quietly seeking help from China, Russia and other UN agencies. Lack of basic medical supplies, equipment, sanitation and access to water are just a few of the difficulties that the DPRK could face in this aggressive war against COVID-19.
More importantly it is not only the rest of the world that the DPRK wants to fool with their claims, it also wants to uphold the following of its own population. As Dr Choi states “If it becomes clear that the health care system cannot take care of the people then they will lose confidence in their government. It would mean the system is not infallible”.
It is well documented that the North Korean regime mistreats its workers abroad. Pyongyang Papers has previously published an article investigating the regime refusing permission for severely ill workers abroad to receive treatment. The regime views its illegal workforce abroad as a means to make money to be sent back to Pyongyang and continues to show a total disregard for human life, even during a global pandemic!
If you have any information about evasion of DPRK sanctions, please get in touch with Pyongyang Papers.