As the coronavirus crisis rages worldwide, the North Korean regime has not reported any cases and instead promoted rocket launches. What is happening behind the borders?
Trying to access information about the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus crisis in North Korea is similar to trying to investigate other problems in the hermit country: Reliable facts are in short supply, and instead propaganda, guesswork and rumors circulate. Only one thing is certain: the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un began responding to the invisible threat in late January, long before Europe did. The state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmum described the fight against the virus as a question of “national survival”.
However, on March 13, the North Korean government told the World Health Organization (WHO) that the country did not have a single case of COVID-19 caused by the virus. At the same time, neighboring China reported that over 80,000 people were infected, and nearly 8,000 in South Korea, the other half of the divided Korean peninsula.
North Korean public life has largely stalled. There is a ban on entering and leaving the country, air and rail traffic are stopped, schools and universities are closed. All foreigners in the country were subjected to a 30-day quarantine, from which diplomats were not exempt – and which are only allowed to move to a very limited extent. For example, Germany withdrew its embassy staff at the end of February, and the omnipresent force of self-declared nuclear power is no exception to the measures.