A woman in Pyongyang died of a novel coronavirus infection in January despite North Korean claims that the country has not suffered an outbreak of the contagious disease, Daily NK has learned.
“A women in her 50s suffering from a fever and coughing in late January suddenly died on Jan. 27,” a high-level official in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Feb. 10. “The authorities submitted documents regarding her death to a local police station that stated she had died of acute pneumonia.”
The woman had been quarantined because public health authorities believed she may have been infected with the novel coronavirus; ultimately, however, her death was blamed on “acute pneumonia,” not the coronavirus.
This move was likely an attempt by North Korean authorities to cover up the cause of her death, the source said.
The source also added that the women’s body was cremated at the Obongsan cremation facility [in Pyongyang’s Rakrang District] and her cremated remains were given to her family.
“If she had died from regular pneumonia, her family would have taken care of the cremation. Her family thinks that she was cremated by the authorities because of a coronavirus infection,” he explained.
The Pyongyang source told Daily NK that a total of three people have died of the coronavirus in the capital city, including a man in his mid-40s and a student in their 20s who had been studying in China. The gender of the student remains unknown.
According to the source, upon showing symptoms of coronavirus infections, all three people were immediately transported to the Pyongyang City People’s Hospital No. 3 in the city’s Mangyong District and placed in quarantined medical quarters before their death.
The Pyongyang City People’s Hospital No. 3 deals mainly with tuberculosis patients. The coronavirus is similar to tuberculosis in that it can be transmitted through the air and causes infections in the lungs.
The authorities sent the three suspected coronavirus infection cases to the hospital because they judged it would be easier to quarantine them there than other medical facilities, the source said.
A total of 18 suspected cases of the coronavirus are currently under quarantine at the No. 3 People’s Hospital, the source further reported.
According to him, North Korean health authorities have sourced the outbreak of the coronavirus to the student who had studied in China. The 18 patients in the hospital are being treated as “suspected cases” even though they have received a definite diagnosis, the source added.
A Feb. 6 editorial in the Minju Chosun, the North Korean Cabinet’s principal newspaper, argued, however, that “We must not relax just because our country has not seen an outbreak of the coronavirus. That could lead to irreversible consequences.”
This denial comes after a high-level public health ministry official refused to admit an outbreak had occurred on state television on Feb. 2.
Minju Chosun did admit, however, that “suspected coronavirus infections” appeared and that they have been placed into quarantined medical facilities.
“North Korea is taking all measures possible to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus. If the authorities admit that an outbreak has occurred, it will mean that they’re efforts have failed,” a former high-level North Korean official told Daily NK.
“If an outbreak has indeed occurred, then the authorities should report them to the World Health Organization and get support from the international community to prevent the further spread of the virus,” he added.
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