North Korea Quarantines 7,000 to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak: Report

North Korea Quarantines 7,000 to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak: Report
An official from the Mangyongdae District emergency anti-epidemic headquarters disinfects a tramcar to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at the Songsan Tram Station in Pyongyang on Feb. 26, 2020. (Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images)
Isabel van Brugen

North Korea has placed at least 7,000 people under quarantine in an attempt to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, according to reports.

Thousands in the country’s Kangwon and North and South Pyongan provinces have reportedly been placed under quarantine, according to Lee Eun-Jae, a representative of South Korea’s United Future Party, who cited information from the Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.
“While North Korea has not yet confirmed the outbreak in the country, South Korea is closely monitoring the situation as people are put under quarantine in Gangwon and Pyongan Provinces,” he said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

“There are possibilities that North Koreans who visited China before the borders were closed may have been infected with the virus,” he added.

The dynastic totalitarian dictatorship in North Korea has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus which originated in neighboring China, but it has put in place “high-intensity” measures that the country’s state media says are to prevent coronavirus infections. 

These measures include a ban on foreign tourists, reinforced border checks, and the suspension of most air and rail travel within and out of the country. State media KCNA also said a that month-long quarantine period had been imposed on people showing symptoms of the virus.

As the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Korea soared to 5,766 Thursday morning, including 35 deaths, experts have become increasingly concerned that Pyongyang is covering-up cases and deaths.
“There is no way that North Korea is not being impacted by the coronavirus—they are clearly lying as they don’t want to show any weakness or that there is any threat to the regime,” Harry Kazianis, director of Korean Studies at the Center for National Interest, told Fox News last month.
“Considering how there are many porous sections of the North Korea-China border—and how the Kim regime depends on illegal trade to survive—it is clear the virus has come to North Korea,” he added. 
“I’m 100 percent sure that North Korea already has infected patients,” Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Korea University, told AP.

He added that North Korea would be “helpless” if it were to suffer an outbreak similar to South Korea.

Meanwhile, a World Health Organization (WHO) official has said there are no indications of any cases of the new coronavirus in North Korea.  
“At the moment there are no signals, there are no indications we are dealing with any COVID-19 there,” Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies programme, told a news conference in Geneva on Feb. 18. 
Ryan said WHO officials had “no reason to believe that there are any specific issues” going on in North Korea. 

KCNA said Kim on Feb. 29 discussed enforcing “top-class anti-epidemic steps” to prevent the spread of the virus.

“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” Kim was quoted as telling the meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo. “No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system.”

He instructed the officials to “seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way, and strengthen check-up, test and quarantine,” KCNA added.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
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