N. Korea’s allegation on no coronavirus patients raises doubt

Lee Han-soo  Published 2020.02.13  15:48  Updated 2020.02.13 15:48


- Pyongyang official reportedly executed for disobeying quarantine order

The North Korean government has reported no outbreak of the new coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, but some foreigners do not seem to accept it on face value.

According to Voice of America (VOA), a media outlet run by the U.S. government, an official at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reportedly expressed skepticism about the North’s claim that it has seen no cases of the virus within its border.

“The North Korean authorities have told FAO that there are no cases of the new coronavirus, but we are suspicious of such claims,” Deputy Representative Bir Mandal at the FAO office in Pyongyang said to the VOA on Wednesday.

Mandal, however, did not provide any evidence to support the suspicion.

Such speculation from the U.N. organization came after North Korea reported to the World Health Organization office in Pyongyang that it had no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The announcement was the first time that the global agency mentioned on the outbreak of the virus in the reclusive regime. As the WHO relies on voluntary reporting from member states, it is uncertain if there are no coronavirus patients in North Korea.

North Korean media outlets have also been reporting that there have been no confirmed cases of the virus infection, but added that Pyongyang quarantined some of its citizens for showing suspected symptoms.

Faced with the global outbreak of the new coronavirus, the isolated country has been tightening its system to prevent the infection of the epidemic, closing its borders with China and banning the entry of all foreign tourists.

North Korea is also known to have made an official request to the WHO for laboratory reagents and personal protective equipment, including goggles, gloves, masks and gowns, for health workers, while requesting help with screening efforts along its border with China.

“At the request of the Ministry of Public Health, the Red Cross Society of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has mobilized 500 volunteers in four provinces along the Sino-Korean border,” said Xavier Castellanos, regional director of International Federation of Red Cross for the Asia Pacific region, to VOA.

These volunteers are working closely with healthcare providers to support screening efforts and promote effective hygiene practices, with support from the local Red Cross branch, he said.

Red Cross volunteers are cooperating to local health authorities and government agencies to visit households who live remotely and are not easily reached, to ensure everyone receives this support, Castellanos added.

Meanwhile, JoongAng Ilbo, a local news outlet, reported on Thursday that a firing squad allegedly executed a North Korean official who had been quarantined for showing suspected symptoms of the new coronavirus after he visited a public bath facility.

The vernacular newspaper also reported of a first confirmed case of the coronavirus in North Korea last Saturday. Citing an anonymous source, the paper claimed that a Pyongyang citizen who returned from China appears to be North Korea’s first confirmed case of the new coronavirus.

The alleged source told the paper that North Korean officials have been isolating everyone who recently visited a foreign country and testing them for the coronavirus, and, during this process, one woman from the North Korean capital tested positive.

“All people who had close contact with the patient have also been quarantined,” it said.

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