Coronavirus News Asia

North Korea’s silent struggle against Covid-19


As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the world, countries are scrambling to effectively respond to this invisible enemy. One of the countries widely lauded as a model example for others to follow has been South Korea.

Typically, information is significantly more sparse regarding its notoriously opaque neighbor up north.

While Pyongyang continues to insist it has zero Covid-19 cases, minimal information has appeared regarding how the government is handling the situation and how the virus has really been affecting the everyday lives of North Korean citizens.

However, by piecing together official information from the regime, from state media and reports from ordinary citizens inside the country, a picture can be painted.

Information on the ground can be obtained from citizens supplied with smuggled Chinese cellphones. Testimonies are gathered on most days by Daily NK, a South Korea-based publication that operates under the auspices of Unification Media Group, a Seoul-based non-profit organization working to promote freedom of information within North Korea.

While the Kim regime will never win the kudos South Korea has gained for dealing with the pandemic, indications are that the crisis in the country is, in fact being contained – thanks to a combination of strict, authoritarian controls and some public ingenuity.

Closed for business

The first response of the North Korean government was to close its borders with China. The consequences of this continue to be felt to this day, given that the vast majority of trade the isolated country engages in moves across this frontier.

Cross-border trade officially came to a standstill on January 26, causing a massive blow to local markets and an ongoing shortage of goods. With nothing coming in from China, markets started running out of supplies to sell and whatever was available suddenly became much more expensive. The price of flour, for instance, increased by nearly 50% in days.



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