Despite no confirmed cases, state-run media have mentioned a fight against COVID-19, saying the regime is implementing a “propaganda project.”
“Through the national hygiene propaganda project system, data related to the prevention of communicable diseases [will be] distributed to the central and provinces in a timely manner, and sent to the broadcasting networks in the country for intensive propaganda,” said a state news report.
North Korea also announced it would extend a quarantine for suspected cases to 30 days “for the time being.”
Some South Korean news outlets, including the Chosun Ilbo paper, reported that the virus has already spread into the reclusive nation, coming through gaps in its border with China. There have been suspected cases quarantined in Musan that include locals smuggling between the country and China.
Experts Raise Alarm
Experts have worried that the country, one of the poorest in the world, could be ravaged by COVID-19 due to a lack of medical supplies.
“There’s not enough medicine for the country. I’m really concerned about them facing an outbreak,” Nagi Shafik, a former consultant at the World Health Organization who had worked in Pyongyang, told Business Insider. “It will be dangerous for them—it could go everywhere.”
Elaborating further, Shafik told the South China Morning Post that the country’s health care system and hospitals are “devoid of the most basic treatments for any sort of medical problem.”
This includes items “like antibiotics, any sort of preventative care are unheard of in the countryside or rural areas and only reserved for the party elite in Pyongyang,” he said.
What’s more, one researcher said North Korea likely isn’t reporting the true scope of its COVID-19 outbreak.
“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 this week. “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.”
North Korea, meanwhile, has banned all tourists and cut off transportation with China in an attempt to curb the spread of the illness. However, Kazianis said such actions could actually exacerbate the problem.
“The real danger is if the situation were to spiral out of control and some sort of government collapse occurred,” he told Fox News. “While I would say the chances are remote, this is the real danger that we must worry about when it comes to North Korea. If the Kim regime did collapse, from coronavirus or something else, who controls their nuclear weapons? What about their chemical or biological weapons? Who feeds the 25 million North Koreans?”
The International Federation of Red Cross told news outlets this week that North Korea urgently needs coronavirus testing kits and protective gear.
“We must act now,” the group said, according to VOA.
On Jan. 30, UPI reported there was at least one coronavirus case in Yanbian, an ethnic Korean region located near the border.
The United States said it is ready to assist North Korea in curbing an outbreak of coronavirus, according to a spokesperson.
“We strongly support and encourage the work of U.S. and international aid and health organizations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in the DPRK,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations.”