Coronavirus: Could It Depopulate North Korea?

North Koreans at a hospital in Pyongyang wearing masks. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

  • Coronavirus has been reported in nearly every Asian Pacific nation except North Korea – until today, when it was leaked by unofficial sources. Is this because they didn’t have it, or they didn’t report it? North Korea is notorious for a lack of validity and reliability in its health data.
  • Infectious disease risks in North Korea remain largely unknown according to a 2018 report. 
  • Border crossings between North Korea and China are commonplace. Trade with China represents 57% of North Korea’s imports and 42% of its exports.
  • Most hospitals that exist today in North Korea were built in the 1960s and 1970s, according to a 2017 report.
  • A survey of infectious diseases in North Korean travelers, 2015-2017, found a high incidence of three infectious diseases – Hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and syphilis – among North Korean travelers.
  • With infectious disease common and healthcare standards low, could an outbreak of coronovirus effectively depopulate North Korea. We bring you recent reports … 

“North Korean authorities have ordered public health officials in Sinuiju to quickly dispose of the bodies and keep the deaths secret from the public.”

Sources: Five N. Koreans have died from coronavirus

North Korea has a long history of covering up or under reporting deaths caused by contagious disease outbreaks

Feb 7, 2020

Daily NK – Daily NK sources in North Pyongan Province reported today that five people died after suffering from fevers at hospitals in Sinuiju and a nearby area, and have speculated the patients suffered from coronavirus infections.

The Wuhan coronavirus has spread in China over recent weeks and North Korean officials have taken strong measures to prevent the spread of the contagion into the country.

Daily NK sources said that North Korean authorities have ordered public health officials in Sinuiju to quickly dispose of the bodies and keep the deaths secret from the public.

A North Pyongan Province source told Daily NK that one of the patients went to a hospital in Sinuiju late last month with symptoms similar to a cold and was given fever reducers and anti-biotics. [Antibiotics are useless against viruses.]

The patients’ fever worsened until, finally, they died.

Daily NK sources also reported that two patients at another hospital in Sinuiju two days later were given medicine to treat their high fevers, but ultimately died. Two more patients at a hospital in Wuiju County, near Sinuiju, reportedly died in early February.

Daily NK was unable to ascertain the ages, gender, occupation, or recent travel history of any of the patients.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to officially confirm any cases of Wuhan coronavirus infections in North Korea. The WHO, however, bases its data regarding infection cases on reports provided by the North Korean government, which means there are limits to confirming the veracity of the WHO’s data.

North Korea has hinted at having quarantined suspected cases of Wuhan coronavirus infections.

An official with the Ministry of Public Health was recently quoted as saying that suspected cases of infections who suffer from fevers or coughs are being quarantined and treated. The country has not yet confirmed any infection cases.

Daily NK has reported that North Korean authorities have taken stringent steps to close down the border – even suspending trade with China – and has taken the drastic step of shutting down Sinuiju Port, a major hub for trade in the region. These measures may have prevented an outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.

A HISTORY OF SILENCE

The North Korean leadership, however, has a history of failing to report outbreaks of contagious diseases, or has under reported deaths caused by outbreaks. North Korean officials appear to have been concerned that frank reports about outbreaks could lead to internal unrest or pose a danger to the regime. Read more. 

RELATED: 

All of its neighbors have it, so why hasn’t North Korea reported any coronavirus cases?

Feb  6, 2020

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) It’s now about two months since a deadly novel coronavirus was found in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and nearly every country and territory in East Asia has confirmed a case.

But not North Korea.

One of the world’s poorest countries has, according to its public statements, managed to avoid the virus despite the fact that in neighboring mainland China, it has killed more than 600 people and infected more than 31,000.

More than 300 people have tested positive for the virus in over 25 places around the world — including the other two countries that share a land border with North Korea, Russia and South Korea.

In fact, every country and territory within a 1,500-mile radius of North Korea, except for sparsely populated Mongolia, has confirmed a case.

It’s unclear how North Korea has been able to avoid the virus.

Pyongyang has either been very lucky, isn’t saying something or is reaping one of the few benefits of being a so-called “hermit nation.”

The country has not publicly acknowledged any confirmed coronavirus patients, but Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University who previously served as the head of a think tank operated by South Korea’s

National Intelligence Service (NIS), said it’s very possible someone inside North Korea — a country of 25 million people — has been infected.

Researchers are still trying to determine how the virus spreads, but it is not believed to be airborne. It’s also unclear if the virus can spread via feces or if infected patients without symptoms can pass it on to others.

But Nam suspects a Chinese patient could have infected someone from North Korea across their shared border. Read more.

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