North Korea has announced that the coronavirus emergency outbreak is a matter of national survival.
So far, no official cases of the virus have been confirmed from within North Korea. However, chances that nobody in the country is infected seem quite low. To survive, the country depends on aid, trade and smuggling, nearly all of which goes through China. There are many comings and goings between the two countries, both regulated and illegal ones. At least there were, until borders were closed for fear of an outbreak.
An urgent Facebook Live video has been posted here regarding the outbreak in both China and North Korea: https://www.facebook.com/eugene.bach/videos/2968930913151409/
In recent days, there have been rumours about possible cases and even deaths. “We have been hearing from others that North Korea is killing those that are suspected of having exposure to the virus,” said one BTJ source.
There is also an unconfirmed report that an official who had been in China and was quarantined on his return, was executed after he broke his quarantine to visit a public bath house. North Korea is a black hole when it comes to information to the outside world. It is almost impossible to independently verify such information. We have to rely on our reports from the ground.
North Korea is extremely anxious to keep the virus out. It has taken draconian measures, that will further put pressure on a crumbling economy.
Here are the steps that North Korea has taken:
- The border with China has been closed to almost all traffic.
- Harbours and airports closed to international traffic.
- Severe crack down enacted on illegal crossings and smuggling
- International tourism has been stopped.
- Funerals have been canceled
- All dead bodies are ordered to be cremated
- And many of those working in China to earn cash for the regime have been recalled and put in quarantine.
Even if North Korea does not have the coronavirus yet, it is already wreaking havoc on the country. North Korea has cut itself off from most revenue streams and it has become much harder to get food, clothing and other items normally brought in from China.
The only reason why the regime would take almost suicidal measures is that the alternative is worse. If the coronavirus spreads to North Korea, it would be an absolute disaster.
The reasons why the coronavirus would be an absolute disaster
#1 North Korea does not have sufficient stocks of disinfectants, masks, diagnostic equipment and other items needed to contain an outbreak.
#2 North Korea does not have anywhere near enough medical equipment, such as ventilators, to treat those suffering from the disease. Outside of the cities, even the most basic medications, like anti-virals, are hard to obtain.
#3 A large proportion of the North Korean population is chronically malnourished, and vulnerable to infections. Many have underlying conditions, such as TB.
#4 Many people are so poor that they live on a day to day basis, gathering food or trading on black markets. They cannot quarantine themselves for long periods without risking starvation.
North Korea does have an advantage over China in that they had some advance warning, and they can exercise near total control over people movements in the country. However, their advantages are mitigated by their lack of information and in some cases false information.
Here is an official article from a North Korean news agency posted on February 9, 2020. It is a product that is only made in North Korea and is claimed that it is effective against all viruses. It is scary to think that this is what the North Koreans might be relying on to keep them safe.
There are high level discussions going on about partial sanctions relief, so North Korea can better prepare for an outbreak. The Red Cross, for example, would like to be able to send funds so North Korea can get more supplies.
From our experience we are skeptical about any funds going through official channels, be it the government or the United Nations. There is no accountability and funds are regularly misused. We advise anyone willing to send help to do so through smaller independent charities.
We have several Back to Jerusalem workers on the ground in North Korea. They face travel restrictions because of this situation. Please pray for them, for their continued witness as they minister to the people of North Korea, both to their physical and spiritual needs.