North Korea Confirms Coronavirus Cases for First Time After Kim Jong-un Repeatedly Denied Infections: Report

Cases of the novel coronavirus in North Korea have existed from around late March and have only been reported in three areas of the country, officials in the country have reportedly confirmed.

Earlier this month, the director of the anti-epidemic department of North Korea's Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters, Pak Myong Su, told Agence-France-Press (AFP): "Not one single person [in North Korea] has been infected with the novel coronavirus in our country so far."

"We have carried out preemptive and scientific measures such as inspections and quarantine for all personnel entering our country and thoroughly disinfecting all goods, as well as closing borders and blocking sea and air lanes," he told AFP at the time.

However, North Korean government officials have reportedly been holding lectures to educate residents about the virus, claiming the country had the fewest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. That's according to a resident of North Korea's Ryanggang province in the north of the country, who spoke to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on condition of anonymity.

"[Officials] held a lecture session for all the residents titled 'Let's all work together on the coronavirus quarantine project to [successfully] implement the Supreme Leader's policies," the resident told RFA on Thursday.

"The speaker at the lecture publicly stated that there were confirmed coronavirus patients among [the people]," the source noted.

The officials reportedly told residents the infections were confined to only three areas of the country: the capital Pyongyang, as well as the South Hwanghae province and North Hamgyong province.

But the resident was skeptical, noting: "North Hamgyong and South Hwanghae are located at the top and bottom of the map of our country, and Pyongyang is in the middle. Can you believe that there are confirmed cases in only these three areas?"

"If the virus spread from the northern end of the country [near the border with China] to the southern end, it means it has to have spread across the entire country.

"They [the officials] said that the [Korean Workers'] Party's quarantine guidelines had not been implemented properly by us, and that this caused serious damage to the people's economy. The speaker appealed to us all to prevent [further] damage [to society] so we can together win the war against the coronavirus," the source added.

The official was reported to have emphasized that North Korea has "the most superior socialist healthcare system, making it the country with the fewest confirmed cases in the world," the resident said.

The lecture was also held in Pyongyang where the same claims about the outbreak were made, another source (who also requested anonymity) told RFA on Wednesday.

The second source said: "The lecturer told us we should be proud that we live in the country with the fewest confirmed coronavirus cases because of our socialist medical system and healthcare policies."

Those who attended the lecture in Pyongyang were reported to have been critical of the government. "They [the attendees] say that the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un, the current North Korean leader] did nothing for residents who are struggling to make ends meet. They are criticizing the authorities for blaming the people for failing to implement the party's quarantine guidelines [instead of themselves, the government]," the second source told RFA.

Concerns over the accuracy of the reclusive state's official claim that it has no confirmed cases have been ongoing, especially given its neighboring countries, China and South Korea, both saw an explosion of cases in the early stages of the outbreak.

Back in February, North Korea refused the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations (UN), which approved humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions placed on North Korea to help prevent the spread of the virus in the country.

Unconvinced that North Korea's healthcare system was robust enough to cope with an outbreak, the UN was prepared to export goggles, thermometers and stethoscopes to the country to help assist the nation.

Pyongyang, North Korea, coronavirus, April 2020
A health worker sprays disinfectant on the hands of a woman amid concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus at an entrance of the Pyongchon District People's Hospital in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on April 1, 2020. Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing, the World Health Organization advises. Getty Images

North Korea's borders have remained closed since it was reportedly instructed by Kim to "seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way, and strengthen check-up, test and quarantine," in a meeting with officials in February, according to North Korea's Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

The state has suspended all international trains and flights. Enhanced security checks have been enforced at airports, ports and other border regions. Anyone showing symptoms is being placed in month-long quarantine periods, Reuters reported.

North Korean officials were reportedly "looking into whether there is still any space for infectious diseases to enter, in line with the complete blockade of borders, airspace and territorial waters" until the pandemic is under control, KCNA reported on Saturday.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed it had been receiving "weekly updates" from North Korea's health ministry. It said the country had the capacity to test people for the virus at a national reference laboratory in Pyongyang. The WHO confirmed testing has continued across North Korea and it has over 500 people in quarantine.

"As of 2 April, 709 people—11 foreigners and 698 nationals—have been tested for COVID-19. There is no report of a COVID-19 case. There are 509 people in quarantine – two foreigners and 507 nationals," Dr. Edwin Salvador, the official WHO representative to North Korea, told Reuters.

"Since 31 December, 24,842 people have been released from quarantine, which includes 380 foreigners," he said.

Newsweek has contacted the WHO for further comment on the latest status of the outbreak in North Korea.

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, has spread to more than 2.4 million people across the globe. Nearly 633,000 have reportedly recovered from infection, while nearly 166,000 have died, as of Monday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the globe.

coronavirus, map, covid-19, countries, world
A graphic provided by Statista shows the global spread of the new coronavirus. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
North Korea Confirms Coronavirus Cases for First Time After Kim Jong-un Repeatedly Denied Infections: Report | News