North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an emergency consultative meeting of the politburo earlier this year. (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

North Korea is claiming that the country’s COVID-19 situation is improving, with the number of new fever cases decreasing. Yet several Daily NK sources say North Koreans themselves are skeptical of coronavirus-related data released by their own government. 

According to statistics released through North Korean media recently, the number of new fever cases in the country has hovered at around 100,000 since May 21. North Korea announced a downward trend just six days after making its first official admission of an outbreak on May 12, indicating confidence that it can control and manage the situation on its own.

However, a source in Gangwon Province told Daily NK on Friday that as long as the country’s Emergency Anti-epidemic Command fails to ascertain directly how lower-level officials are reporting fever cases, “the reality is that the statistics simply reflect what lower-level officials report, meaning that the central government can’t know everything.”

The source went on to say that, “People don’t believe official statistics are accurate because lower-level officials are just counting who has fevers or not.”

A Daily NK source in Nampo said people doubt the credibility of the statistics announced by the authorities. They say the numbers on fully recovered people are questionable because “people receive no drugs or treatment when they are quarantined with fevers.” 

As these reports suggest, many North Koreans do not appear to believe the government’s reports that the COVID-19 numbers are trending downward. North Korea’s entire population remains unvaccinated, which has prevented the country from achieving herd immunity.

Meanwhile, North Korea is stressing the role of the country’s “household doctor system.” The system charges a single doctor at a neighborhood clinic with taking care of families in several inminban (people’s units). 

Rodong Sinmun reported in a May 19 article that “a large number of doctors in charge of households and medical workers of national, provincial, city and county-level hospitals are carrying out medical check-ups for the residents under their care in a responsible manner.

“They keep close watch on those with fever and use scientific treatment methods,” it added. 

However, Daily NK’s source in Nampo said that despite the household doctor system being in place, “there are many times when the five people who go around and check on quarantined families doesn’t even include a single doctor.

“It’s tough for one doctor to go around and take care of 40 to 50 households on his or her own,” he continued, adding, “And, in fact, since the key [measures taken by the authorities to combat] COVID-19 include lockdowns, quarantines and bans on movement, non-professionals could be the ones going around taking people’s temperatures. The household doctor system isn’t helping the situation.”

Daily NK’s source in Gangwon Province said the doctors who conduct checkups at people’s homes have no medications in their medicine bags.

“All they have are thermometers and propaganda material about public health,” he said. “They just take your temperature, which anyone can do. Will you get accurate treatments or statistics from that?”

Meanwhile, people classified as “fully recovered” upon being released from quarantine are complaining about various ailments. 

“They didn’t take any medicine, and they’re called ‘fully recovered’ simply because they’ve completed their quarantine periods. [Even after leaving quarantine], some people have headaches or suffer non-stop coughing,” the Gangwon Province-based source said. “They’re all afraid that they’ll be put again into quarantine, like a rat in a hole, if they get worse.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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