North Korean news: Kim Jong-un’s ‘Russian roulette risk’ with coronavirus exposed | World | News
North Korea still maintains it has zero cases of coronavirus despite the world infection rate having risen to 33.8 million and a death toll over a million. The state’s United Nations ambassador Kim Song praised his home’s “effective leadership” during a summit this week and claimed the country was “under safe and stable control”. In January, Kim Jong-un announced a “national emergency” and immediately closed the borders in a bid to avoid the pandemic’s spread. But many are doubtful of the state’s “COVID-19 free” claims. If an outbreak occurred, it’s feared that the virus could devastate the nation due to poor healthcare infrastructure. This is coupled with the population being “especially vulnerable” as a result of malnutrition, starvation and weaker immune systems due to other diseases, including tuberculosis. As of early September, only 3,000 tests had been carried out in the state and there was only one suspected case – a returned-defector who reached the border city of Kaesong – but their result was declared to be “indeterminate”. Ambassador Song has claimed the population remains on the “highest alert” and did not “tolerate even the smallest bit of slackness or concession”. However, if mass celebration plans go ahead next month this could all be jeopardised.
Chad O’Carroll, CEO of the Korea Risk Group, who produce analysis of the peninsula, claimed that the leader will be playing “Russian roulette” next month if he does not take care.
He raised doubts about the state’s claim to have zero cases and highlighted that by early September only 3,000 tests had been conducted for a population of nearly 26 million.
Mr O’Carroll told ‘The Impossible State’ podcast earlier this month: “You do the math, it’s not really much of an indicator.”
He claimed that the nation had changed the way it spoke about coronavirus after the suspected case in Kaesong, which he believed could indicate an outbreak.
Mr O’Carroll said: “Interestingly since then, for over a month now, we have noticed that North Korean state media has actually stopped saying it’s ‘virus free’.
“It used to triumphantly state that ‘We are proud the virus has not entered the country’ etcetera – they have stopped doing that for some reason.”
The analyst claimed there were “so many contradictions” in the state’s recent activities, including plans to reopen universities and schools being pushed back while rehearsals for upcoming mass celebrations continued.
Mr O’Carroll said: “If that’s an effort to mitigate against a possible threat, you have at the same time preparations going for the mass games, which has thousands of gymnasts in the centre of Pyongyang.
“You’ve also got military parade practices going on for October 10 – the 75th anniversary of the Workers Party of Korea and students and youth doing torch parade practices in the centre of towns.
“If that wasn’t enough, on July 27 they had an assembly of Korean War veterans, so people in their eighties and nineties all huddled together – so there are lots of confusing indicators out there.”
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He believed that Kim Jong-un must have “confidence in Pyongyang at least” because they still plan to go ahead with military parades and events for the October celebration.
Mr O’Carroll added: “It’s really Russian roulette. At the same time there is concern or maybe an effort to make it look like they are following suit.
“There are precautions at a school and university level, certainly at the ports of entry and stuff – it’s an interesting situation and overall quite confusing to be honest.”
Victor Cha, from the Centre for Strategic International Studies, claimed that even if there are zero coronavirus cases there are other threats to the nation.
In August, the state faced historically bad monsoons, which caused widespread flooding that was believed to have wiped out 154-square-miles of agricultural land.
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This followed a particularly bad harvest last year and the nation’s strict import regulations to avoid the spread of coronavirus, which slowed food reaching the country.
Sanctions enforced upon the state after they conducted numerous missile tests and continued to increase their nuclear stockpile could also leave many in a difficult situation.
Mr Cha described: “It’s like a triple whammy all these things – COVID-19, the sanctions and then the flooding is creating food shortages.
“It’s really put the country in a pretty dire situation, so even if there are not that many cases of COVID-19 in the country… there are still all of these other problems that they have to deal with.
“In many ways [these problems] are almost unprecedented and all coming at the same time.”
‘The Impossible State’ podcast is produced by the Centre for Strategic International Studies and is available to listen to here.