Seoul, South Korea – More than 160 countries across the world are battling COVID-19, but as coronavirus challenges even the world’s most sophisticated health systems, there is one nation that claims to have no cases at all: North Korea.
“Not one novel coronavirus patient has emerged,” Song In Bom, an official from North Korea’s emergency health committee said last month in the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
But even if North Korea is free from coronavirus, the Kim Jong Un regime is not doing a good job at convincing the rest of the world.
In South Korea, analysts and medical experts are highly sceptical of Pyongyang’s claims – and those with sources in North Korea said the virus is already ravaging its way through the country.
“Despite the fact that North Korea closed its borders or refused to allow Chinese or foreign travellers in, it is very likely that some North Koreans are already infected,” said Roh Kyoung-ho, a doctor at the National Health Insurance Service Ilsan Hospital Department of Laboratory Medicine.
“I don’t think it’s even possible to measure acases there because North Korea’s medical system is not well-established or advanced.”
Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke months of diplomatic silence by penning a personal letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The letter’s contents were not released, but a briefing from Moon’s senior press secretary stated that it was full of well-wishes and concern about South Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak. The sudden move has some experts wondering if North Korea is working on an appeal for coronavirus aid.
“I think that the North Koreans would probably accept masks or hand sanitiser or respirators, and maybe also some other forms of health assistance. And I think it should be done for humanitarian reasons,” said Peter Ward, a researcher on the North Korean economy and writer for NK News. “But at the same time, I think we should be under no illusions that such humanitarian support will give us any leverage in dealing with North Korea in terms of denuclearisation.”
Talks over North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities have been on hold for months after the collapse of a summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in February last year.
North Korea has carried out a series of missile launches since then, most recently on Saturday, when the state-run KCNA also revealed that Kim had received a letter from Trump.
A senior White House official confirmed the letter had been sent saying it was “consistent with efforts to engage global leaders during the ongoing pandemic,” according to Reuters.