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Coronavirus in North Korea: Kim Jong-un claims ‘shining success’


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Coronavirus in North Korea: Kim Jong-un claims ‘shining success’

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption State media said Kim warned against a hasty relaxing of restrictions North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hailed his country’s “shining success” in dealing with Covid-19, according to state news agency KCNA.Speaking at a politburo meeting, Mr Kim said the country had “prevented the inroad of the malignant virus…

Coronavirus in North Korea: Kim Jong-un claims ‘shining success’

Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, 2018Image copyright
Getty Images

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State media said Kim warned against a hasty relaxing of restrictions

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hailed his country’s “shining success” in dealing with Covid-19, according to state news agency KCNA.

Speaking at a politburo meeting, Mr Kim said the country had “prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained a stable situation”.

North Korea closed its borders and put thousands into isolation six months ago as the virus swept across the globe.

It claims that it has no virus cases, though analysts say this is unlikely.

Mr Kim is said to have “analysed in detail the six month-long national emergency anti-epidemic work” at a politburo meeting on Thursday. He said the success in handling the virus was “achieved by the far-sighted leadership of the Party Central Committee”.

But he stressed the importance of maintaining “maximum alert without… relaxation on the anti-epidemic front”, adding that the virus was still present in neighbouring countries.

“He repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” said the KCNA report on Friday.

Has coronavirus spread through North Korea? No-one really knows. The country has been closed off since 30 January. Very few people have made it in or out.

The International Federation of the Red Cross had volunteers in the border area working on virus prevention measures and there have been a number of unconfirmed reports of cases within the country.

But most accounts of life in the capital in recent weeks appear to show life carrying on as normal.

Whatever the reality of the situation, Pyongyang wants to appear confident that it has crushed Covid-19.

Domestically this is a strong message that the strict measures Kim Jong-un took to keep the virus at bay have worked.

The rest of the world may be in the grip of a pandemic and Mr Kim wants his people to know he has saved them from that.

But it has come at a cost. All border traffic has been cut off. That means getting essential supplies into the impoverished state have been impossible.

Diplomatic sources have told me that there are stockpiles of PPE and medical supplies, including vaccines built up at the border unable to get through.

There were numerous reports of panic-buying of international goods at department stores in Pyongyang. Shelves being stripped bare as produce is restricted.

It’s also worth noting that only 12 defectors have made it to South Korea between April and June this year – the lowest number on record.

The North Korean people may not be suffering from coronavirus, but they are now even more cut off from the outside world.

Masks compulsory in North Korea

In late January, North Korea moved quickly against the virus – sealing off its borders and later quarantining hundreds of foreigners in the capital, Pyongyang.

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It also put tens of thousands of its own citizens into isolation and closed schools.

North Korea has now reopened schools, but has kept a ban on public gatherings and made it compulsory for people to wear masks in public places, said a Reuters report on 1 July quoting a World Health Organization official.

The WHO also reported that the country has now tested just 922 people for the virus – all of whom have reportedly tested negative.

North Korea, which shares a long border with China, has long maintained that it has not suffered from a single case of the virus.

However, Oliver Hotham, managing editor of specialist news site NK News, told the BBC earlier this year that this was probably not true.

“It’s very unlikely that it has seen no cases because it borders China and South Korea. [Especially with China], given the amount of cross border trade… I really don’t see how it’s possible they could have prevented it,” he said.

“[But] they really did take precautions early [so] I think its possible they’ve prevented a full on outbreak.”

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