On 13 February, the New York Post reported that a North Korean official had been kept in isolation after returning from China due to a suspected case of coronavirus (COVID-19). The official, however, went to a public bathroom while under quarantine, and was later shot dead for risking the spread of coronavirus in the country.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed that anyone who leaves the quarantine process without permission will be “ruled by military law”.
However, there is no clarity nor confirmation on the report as the country has not reported a single case of the coronavirus.
Despite some South Korean media reports on several coronavirus cases and possible coronavirus deaths in North Korea, the World Health Organization (WHO) officials in Pyongyang has denied those claims, saying that it has tested 141 suspected cases of coronavirus and all of them came up negative, International Business Times reported.
In early February, North Korean health ministry official Song In Bom told the state media that the government would be prepared for the spread of coronavirus and reiterated that there is no sign of the coronavirus in the country.
“Just because there is no case of the new coronavirus in our country, we should not be too relieved, but have civil awareness and work together for prevention,” Mr Song said.
However, Director of Korean studies at the Center for National Interest in Fox News, Harry Kazianis, said that the country is lying as they do not wish to show any sign of weakness or that there is any threat to the regime.
“Considering how there are many porous sections of the North Korea-China border – and how the Kim regime depends on illegal trade to survive – it is clear the virus has come to North Korea,” he noted.
With that, the North Korean government has implemented safety measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country. Such measures include imposing screening for visitors who enter the country, subjecting all foreigners to a month-long quarantine, shutting down its 1,500km land border, and cutting transport links with China.
Meanwhile, on 26 February, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana, urged North Korea and the international community to join forces to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
“The outside world should be prepared to respond, and the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should allow full and unimpeded access to medical experts and humanitarian actors, and relax restrictions on access to information,” said Mr Quintana. “Further isolation of the country is not the answer.”