North Korea still has zero confirmed cases of COVID-19

North Korea still has zero confirmed cases of COVID-19
# 03 March 2020 05:16 (UTC +04:00)

As of Monday, North Korea has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, and Kim Jong-un apparently wants to keep things that way. During a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea late last week, Kim called on authorities to close off all potential “channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way” into the country, APA reports citing Sputnik.

“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds it ways into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” Kim warned, his remarks cited by the Korean Central News Agency.

So far, the country seems to have been successful in staving off the virus – which has hit neighbouring China and South Korea hard. The hermit kingdom, whose access with the outside world is already relatively limited even in the best of times, has managed to do so with a series of “revolutionary” measures, including shutting its borders to tourists, cancelling all flights to Pyongyang from China and Russia, and subjecting North Korea-bound passenger trains to stringent inspections, including quarantine in Sinuiju, in the country’s west, for anyone exhibiting even mild possible symptoms of the virus.

Foreigners already in the country are subjected to a 30 day quarantine. Furthermore, KCNA reported last week that the government has instructed its State Commission on Quality Management standards watchdog to quarantine imported goods for a ten day period, and to engage in disinfection measures as necessary.

The country’s efforts have also reportedly included mobilizing and dispatching health authorities across the country to educate people about the virus and promote good public hygiene – such as the wearing of face masks in public places.

In fact, virtually all photos released by the KCNA in recent days have shown everyone – from soldiers, doctors and government workers to ordinary North Koreans, wearing the ubiquitous face masks. The measures to spread public awareness are everywhere, according to reports, and include information on public transit and even vans equipped with loudspeakers driven through the streets to remind people of the danger.

Given North Korea’s generally secretive nature, it’s impossible to know for sure that the virus hasn’t made its way into the country, with speculation on the subject rife in Western media. That said, North Korea is a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), and as such is required to report on issues related to the potential outbreak of contagious viruses, including COVID-19, under international health regulations.

In late February, Pyongyang informed the WHO that it had tested 141 people for the virus, with zero cases confirmed. Pyongyang has also asked the organization for assistance, including disposable gowns, gloves and hazmat suits.

Last month, South Korean media claimed that a North Korean trade official had been summarily executed after leaving COVID-19 quarantine and going to a public bathhouse. The story was soon picked up by some Western tabloids, but has seen no confirmation since. When reading such stories, it’s important to remember that, in previous instances too numerous to list here, reports by South Korean media on North Korean officials' ‘execution’ have often been debunked, with ‘dead’ officials miraculously turned up in public later alive and well.

In any event, North Korea has accumulated a great deal experience ‘practicing’ for a coronavirus-like outbreak in the past, putting in place similarly stringent measures when fighting SARS in 2003 and Ebola in 2014, and weathering both outbreaks successfully, with no cases of either virus reported in the country.