Never thought of nCoV and NK, that would be a Petri Dish for disaster.
SEOUL–North Korea’s not saying a word about deaths or illnesses from the coronavirus, but the disease reportedly has spread across the border from China and is taking a toll in a country with a dismal health care system and scant resources for fighting off the deadly bug.
One sure sign of the regime’s fears is that it failed to stage a parade in central Pyongyang on Saturday, the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the country’s armed forces. Last year, Kim Jong Un himself presided over the procession that displayed the North’s latest missiles and other fearsome hardware along with goose-stepping soldiers in serried ranks.
This year, nothing about the nation’s nuclear warheads, much less the “new strategic weapon” that Kim has vowed to unveil. Rodong Sinmum, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, merely cited the armed forces’ supposed success combating “severe and dangerous difficulties”—and said nothing at all about the parade.
But reports have filtered out about Kim’s subjects falling prey to coronavirus despite the country’s decision to seal its 880-mile border with China, most of it along the Yalu River into the Yellow Sea to the west, and its 11-mile border with Russia where the Tumen River flows into the Pacific.
Among the first to report fatalities in North Korea, the Seoul-based website Daily NK said five people had died in the critical northwestern city of Sinuiju, on the Yalu River across road and rail bridges from Dandong, which is the largest Chinese city in the region and a key point for commerce with North Korea despite sanctions.
“Victims had crossed the porous Yalu River border despite orders to cut off traffic from China.”
Daily NK, which relies on sources inside North Korea that send reports via Chinese mobile phone networks to contacts in China, said authorities had “ordered public health officials in Sinuiju to quickly dispose of the bodies and keep the deaths secret from the public.”
The victims had crossed the porous Yalu River border despite orders to cut off traffic from China as the disease radiated from the industrial city of Wuhan where the virus originated in December. As of Sunday, more than 700 people had died inside China.
One of the first patients in North Korea reportedly was hospitalized in Sinuiju “with symptoms similar to a cold and was given fever reducers and antibiotics,” said Daily NK, but the patient died as the fever rose. Two more patients died two days later in another hospital in Sinuiju and another two in a nearby town.
North Korea’s worries about an epidemic are all the more intense because of its shortage of basic medicine and equipment. As cases mount, authorities are working feverishly to contain a disease that, if unchecked, could undermine Kim’s grip over his 25 million people, most of whom live in poverty worsened by hunger.
“Because health conditions and health care in North Korea are so bad,” said Bruce Bennett, long-time analyst at the Rand Corporation, “they cannot allow the replication process to develop without severe intervention”—that is, they have to take drastic steps to keep the virus from spreading fast.
The country has just streamlined a headquarters to coordinate operations, Rodong Sinmun reported, marshaling 30,000 workers to combat the epidemic.
North Korea’s Secret Coronavirus Crisis is Crazy Scary