North Korea has already decided to reject any humanitarian support offered by the US to combat the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, Daily NK has learned.

This decision is reportedly based on the fact that North Korea already has “diagnosis kits”  in use throughout the country. The kits can supposedly diagnose whether someone is infected with COVID-19.

“The authorities have already decided what their response is to the US announcement that it will approve humanitarian support to the country,” a high-ranking government official in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Feb. 19. “Medical equipment, including the new diagnosis kits, are already being used throughout the country, so they are saying they don’t need US humanitarian support.”

North Korean authorities have reportedly supplied the kits to emergency disease control command centers located in 13 areas of the country, including its nine provinces and directly-governed cities, such as Pyongyang.


Sample diagnosis kits were reportedly acquired from abroad in secret by traders and government agents stationed at various locations outside of North Korea.

humanitarian support
North Korean state media reported on Jan. 30 that it was making every effort to combat an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

“The authorities used the sample diagnosis kits and chemical reagents it acquired from abroad to announce on Feb. 10 that they had created their own diagnosis kits,” the Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “The kits have been distributed to major hospitals, government agencies and public health agencies throughout the country.”

North Korean authorities appear to have refrained from acquiring the test kits through normal diplomatic channels because of fears that information about their efforts could be picked up by the media or other governments.

“The authorities are saying that the development of the kits is a clear example of the country’s prowess in ‘preventative medicine.’ If they had asked North Korean embassy officials in China or other places to acquire the sample kits, rumors would have been sure to follow,” he said.

“That’s why the authorities chose to import the kits in secret to prevent any information from getting out,” he added.


Daily NK sources expressed doubts that North Korea’s new diagnosis kits are effective, pointing to the fact that diagnosis kits developed in China or the US accurately diagnose infections just 30% to 50% of the time. North Korea’s own versions of the kits are likely full of flaws, sources said.

“No one can be certain that the diagnosis kits will accurately tell doctors whether or not someone is infected with the virus,” another Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “The authorities are just mindlessly promoting the idea that the diagnosis kits were developed by North Korea.”

North Korean authorities, however, are reportedly open to the idea of receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 from the World Health Organization or other international organizations if it becomes available.

“The government is worried that the coronavirus will turn into something like tuberculosis – always present in the population, rather than just disappearing over time,” the source said.

“State officials appear ready to accept a vaccine from an international organization – not directly from the US, however – if one becomes available,” he added.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to