Sources: Five N. Koreans died from coronavirus infections

North Korea has a long history of covering up or under reporting deaths caused by contagious disease outbreaks

Daily NK sources in North Pyongan Province reported today that five people died after suffering from fevers at hospitals in Sinuiju and a nearby area, and have speculated the patients suffered from coronavirus infections.

The Wuhan coronavirus has spread in China over recent weeks and North Korean officials have taken strong measures to prevent the spread of the contagion into the country.

Daily NK sources said that North Korean authorities have ordered public health officials in Sinuiju to quickly dispose of the bodies and keep the deaths secret from the public.

A STRING OF DEATHS

A North Pyongan Province source told Daily NK that one of the patients went to a hospital in Sinuiju late last month with symptoms similar to a cold and was given fever reducers and anti-biotics. The patient’s fever worsened until, finally, they died.

Daily NK sources also reported that two patients at another hospital in Sinuiju two days later were given medicine to treat their high fevers, but ultimately died. Two more patients at a hospital in Wuiju County, near Sinuiju, reportedly died in early February.

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North Korean public health authorities disinfecting a customs office in Nampo. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Daily NK was unable to ascertain the ages, gender, occupation, or recent travel history of any of the patients.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to officially confirm any cases of Wuhan coronavirus infections in North Korea. The WHO, however, bases its data regarding infection cases on reports provided by the North Korean government, which means there are limits to confirming the veracity of the WHO’s data.

North Korea has hinted at having quarantined suspected cases of Wuhan coronavirus infections. An official with the Ministry of Public Health was recently quoted as saying that suspected cases of infections who suffer from fevers or coughs are being quarantined and treated. The country has not yet confirmed any infection cases.

Daily NK has reported that North Korean authorities have taken stringent steps to close down the border – even suspending trade with China – and has taken the drastic step of shutting down Sinuiju Port, a major hub for trade in the region. These measures may have prevented an outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.

A HISTORY OF SILENCE

The North Korean leadership, however, has a history of failing to report outbreaks of contagious diseases, or has under reported deaths caused by outbreaks. North Korean officials appear to have been concerned that frank reports about outbreaks could lead to internal unrest or pose a danger to the regime.

North Korea’s state-run media reported on worldwide deaths caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the Ebola virus in 2014 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015, but failed to publish any reports on infection cases in the country.

The recently reported deaths of patients with high fevers in North Pyongan Province has caused concern among some North Koreans that the Wuhan coronavirus has already spread into the country.

“There’s rumors that the [corona]virus is already spreading,” one source in the province told Daily NK.

“If the deaths were caused by the [corona]virus, North Korean authorities need to take measures to deal with the outbreak instead of trying to cover it up,” he added.

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.