Despite North Korea’s claims to have no COVID-19 patients, Daily NK has learned that the number of people suffering from COVID-19 symptoms in isolation facilities in the country is rapidly increasing.
A Daily NK source, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported yesterday that an internal report in the country shows that, as of Nov. 1, an accumulated total of 81,000 people have been placed into quarantine. This number, however, does not include soldiers currently in quarantine, which suggests that total number of those isolation is far greater.
North Korean authorities have delegated control over isolation facilities in each area of the country to provincial party committees, and local “emergency anti-epidemic committees” under the party provincial committees are “managing and supporting” these facilities, according to the source’s report.
North Korean authorities have also designated 10 facilities nationwide for the use of patients with “serious symptoms.” Daily NK was unable to confirm the exact number of people isolated in each region, or the number of people have died.
Daily NK’s source confirmed, however, that more than 300 people have died in an isolation center located at a Ministry of Social Security resort in Anju, South Pyongan Province – one of two isolation centers run by the central authorities in the mid-section of the country.
The numbers cited by the source differ significantly from those North Korean authorities have reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) recently. According to the WHO’s “COVID-19 Situation Report,” North Korea has put an accumulated total of 32,011 people in isolation as of Oct. 22.
coronavirus quarantined
North Korean public health workers disinfecting a bus in Sinuiju. / Image: Rodong Sinmun
In short, North Korea’s “official numbers” and its “unofficial numbers” of people in isolation differ by around 50,000 people. The WHO report also claims that while 10,000 people in North Korea have received COVID-19 tests, none of them tested positive for the disease.
According to a recent article in the magazine “Nature,” a research team at Oxford University found that around five percent of the world’s population had been infected by COVID-19 and that South Korea’s rate of COVID-19 infections was the world’s lowest at just 0.06%. Ultimately, if North Korea’s claims are true, that country would have an infection rate lower than South Korea.
In fact, North Koreans themselves are suspicious of the government’s claims that there are no COVID-19 patients.
Another source in North Korea told Daily NK yesterday that many people think that there are COVID-19 cases in the country. “If that wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be a need to isolate all those people, and they question the fact that there are a lot of people who have died after suffering from fevers,” he said.
North Korean authorities are blaming paratyphoid or acute pancreatitis for deaths that have occurred in isolation facilities; many North Korean doctors, however, reportedly believe that these deaths have been caused by COVID-19.
The authorities have, accordingly, taken steps to ensure doctors avoid talking about COVID-19. “The Supreme Leader (Kim Jong Un) has told the world himself that our country has no COVID-19 [patients], so doctors or cadres are unable to recklessly make any comment about it,” the source said. “They would get in a lot of trouble.”
The source went on to speculate that any suggestion that COVID-19 patients have appeared in the country would “damage the image of the leader” and would show that the communist party’s strategies and tactics to deal with the disease have been “wrong-headed.”
There is almost “no chance” that North Korea will report to international agencies that COVID-19 patients have appeared in the country, he further argued.
Kim Jong Un claimed during a speech on Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10 that the country did not have any COVID-19 cases.
Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Jang Seul Gi is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.