MERS behind NK’s decision to snub Gwangju Universiade

North Korea’s abrupt withdrawal from an
international sports event hosted by the South is due to fears over the Middle
East Respiratory Syndrome [MERS] outbreak rather than the opening of a new UN
human rights field office in Seoul as previously believed, Daily NK has

“I heard from a high-level Party cadre that we pulled out of the Gwangju (Universiade) Games because of MERS,” a
source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Tuesday. “The UN human
rights field office was just an excuse; it wasn’t the main reason.”

Sources in three other provinces
corroborated this news but for their safety Daily NK cannot disclose their
specific locations.

Pyongyang has for long been aware of the
opening of the human rights field office, set up in Seoul to investigate human
rights violations by North Korea, she said, noting that “it makes no sense to
pull out at the last minute because of that.”

The actual reason, she explained, stems
from concerns–that is, realizations–of a country lacking basic health care
infrastructure–let alone equipment to test for and detect the virus.

“If even one person had contracted the
virus and it had entered the country, the thinking was they wouldn’t be able to
deal with the aftermath,” she asserted. “The emergency decision was made based
on the fact that they wouldn’t even be able to determine whether someone is
carrying the virus.”

Adding to this fear was the possibility
that leader Kim Jong Un may have to expose himself to athletes carrying the
coronavirus in the event that they win medals, the source said. Athletes who
produce good results at such global sports events are widely congratulated and
used for propaganda to boost public morale.

“After the athletes return home, they would
have to be used for propaganda in photo ops and other events, but if Kim Jong
Un was not present, rumors might have spread that he is afraid of something,”
the source explained. “Simply put, they were scared of the MERS outbreak, so
they pulled the delegation.”

Prioritizing Pyongyang also played heavily
into this decision, considering that the delegation of athletes would have been
dispatched from the capital, which must at all costs be sheltered from any risk
of exposure to the disease.  

“With the many people they would come in
contact with in the South, and the fact that they would compete with athletes
from other countries, it made them believe there was a risk for contraction,”
she added.

However, the state informed the athletes
they would not be competing due to “conspiracies by the South,” the source

The source drew on an instance from the
1990s, when the North spread word that a North Korean soldier who had returned
from the South died not so long after, having been “injected in the South with
a substance that causes a slow death,” explaining that this time they are
claiming that the South might deliberately spread the disease to North Koreans.

Meanwhile, the North had not made
preparations to dispatch its famous cheerleaders. If that had been the case, there would have been mass exercises for practice and ideological training
sessions, but none were reported, according to the source.