North Korea: is the coronavirus rampant?

(To Antonio Vecchio)

In its tragic and sudden spread, Coronavirus seemed to have wanted to spare North Korea to date. Or at least this its leader claimed.

As we write, however, when the fate of Kim Jung-un still appears uncertain (v.articolo), a covid 19 infection is reported for the first time in the country north of the 38th parallel.

Newsweek says so1 in its online edition, according to which at the end of March three outbreaks would have arisen in as many areas2 of the country: the capital Pyongyang, the northern province of Hwanghae and the southern province of Hamgyong.

While bordering on two countries heavily affected by the virus - China, where it was born and on which it depends economically and food, and South Korea -, Kim's regime has so far denied the presence (not yet confirmed) of covid 19.

Result obtained - in the narrative of the regime - thanks to the national health system, “the best in the world”, And to the paternal vigilance of the supreme leader.

A combination that would have allowed what the rest of the world proved impossible: to push back the virus at the border.

In fact, since the end of February the regime had closed all borders and rail and air links with China, and the postponement of the school year and the quarantine for over were among the measures taken from the beginning to the emergency 2.000 citizens and 300 foreigners.

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed to Reuters, on the basis of news received weekly by the Ministry of Health of Pyongyang, that 2 foreigners and 11 North Korean citizens had been tested on April 698, all with negative results , and that 509 individuals (2 foreign only) were still in quarantine.

Numbers that implied, among understandable reservations of the international community, full control of the situation, so much so that in early April, the director of the infectious diseases department of North Korea, Pak Myong Su, declared decided to Agence-France-Press ( AFP) that "So far not a single person has fallen ill with coronavirus in our country", thanks to "preventive measures, such as inspections and quarantine for all personnel entering our country, to disinfect goods and to close land, sea and air borders".

Measures also confirmed by a Japanese journalist from the Choson Sinbo newspaper3, a pro-North Korean newspaper residing in Japan, which he described4 thoroughly stay in quarantine in the country for 30 days, confirming that for the entire duration of the period the temperature was checked three times a day, and that for those who had it above 37,5 ° C, isolation immediately started.

The reporter also reported that "without a mask we were not allowed to get on the bus or enter the shops or offices ... they were so strict".

As further confirmation, the presence of people with masks is also evident in the recordings of Kim's recent public appearances, in some cases of which he himself wears it.

A sign that the level of guard was high, and that the personal protective equipment (MPI) that had come as a gift from Russia, China, UNICEF and doctors without Borders (to mention only those who confirmed the donation) had not gone to waste.

Nonetheless, a number of reasons, observers and the intelligence community never stopped suspecting that the regime was hiding the spread of the epidemic within it.

North Korea is totally unsuitable for dealing with a pandemic of this type due to an almost non-existent public health system and the povertyà and widespread malnutrition.

His "free socialist medical service" collapsed in halfà in the 90s amid economic chaos and a famine that killed around hundreds of North Koreans.

In recent years, Kim Jong-un has built new hospitals (photo opening) and modernized some medical facilities, but most of the benefits are still enjoyed by the nomenclature. All to the advantage of the undergrowth of private medical services, which sees citizens paying under the table with what little they have, such as food and cigarettes.

The monthly salary of a doctor only allows the purchase of 2 kg of rice, according to what is confirmed by health refugees in the south, and an important part of their work consists in indicating the drugs to be found in the clandestine market.

The instruments available are still those produced in the 60s, not to mention the almost non-existent personal protective equipment.

Finally, with regard to the other problem of the country, poverty and malnutrition, just consider that according to the United Nations, about 40% of its 24 million people suffer from hunger.

Data on the contagion currently in North Korea still is not if they have, and perhaps we will never have it precisely, especially if the news on Kim's health is confirmed.

It is true that at the beginning dApril, Kim Jung-a achaired an extraordinary session of the Politburo, the main political body of the ruling workers' party, and, with great emphasis on the regime propaganda, decided to adopt "rigorous national countermeasures to thoroughly control virus infiltration ", even in the perspective of one "disappearance of danger in a short time ".

The sign that the situation was precipitating? Who knows. Meanwhile, according to activist groups in Seoul who have long denounced the epidemic going on across the border, North Korea continues to die5.