North Korea maintains it has recorded no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, despite reports from South Korea suggesting that almost 200 of Pyongyang’s soldiers have died and that the regime is struggling to get a handle on the epidemic.
A Monday report in North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper detailed Pyongyang’s latest efforts to prevent coronavirus taking hold, but claimed: “The infectious disease did not flow into our country yet.” Asia Insiders city a report from Newsweek.
Related: Almost 200 North Korean soldiers have reportedly died from coronavirus, another 4,000 in quarantine
However, also on Monday, the South Korea-based Daily NK news website claimed that as many as 1,800 North Korean soldiers have succumbed to the virus, with thousands more quarantined.
Citing an anonymous military source, Daily NK reported that a military document stated the soldiers died in January and February and that another 3,700 remain under quarantine. Most of those who died were deployed on or close to the border with China, Daily NK said.
Newsweek said, it has contacted the North Korean embassies in the U.K. and Switzerland to request comment on the Daily NK report.
Daily NK—which says its stories are sourced via a network of North Korean informants—is often cited by international media organizations and has previously been contacted by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service for information.
Rodong Sinmun published a warning Monday that it is “absolutely unacceptable” for any North Koreans to hinder government efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“Until recently, a phenomenon arose that some citizens, seeing wearing masks as burdensome, held fast to their opinion against those who require them to abide by the quarantine regulations,” the newspaper said.
Though the regime is yet to confirm any coronavirus cases, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Monday that 10,000 North Koreans have been placed in quarantine, some 40 percent of which have since been released.
North Korea could be highly vulnerable to the outbreak given its long border with China, limited medical infrastructure and the poor health of its inhabitants. The quarantine period for at-risk people is one month, though those who may have been exposed to infected foreigners are being isolated at home or designated facilities for more than 40 days.
Rodong Sinmun said Monday that it is “unpredictable” how much of a threat the outbreak may pose. It added that “work to completely lock down all routes through which the infectious disease can flow in—the border, sea, and air—should be continued with high intensity.”
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported last week that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has asked South Korea President Moon Jae-in for help stemming the coronavirus outbreak, suggesting official reports from the North might be concealing the extent of the problem.
Worldwide, more than 110,000 people have been infected with COVID-19, as shown in the below infographic from Statista. Some 62,000 have recovered, while 3,800 have died.
Reporting by DAVID BRENNAN @ Newsweek