Two days after telling the WHO (World Health Organization) that there were no cases of Covid-19 in North Korea, dictator Kim Jong-un fired several members of the Party’s elite workers for a “serious incident” linked to the coronavirus, “which has created a great crisis for the security of the country and its population”.
The warning came in a speech at a meeting of the ruling party’s executive committee, according to state news agency KCNA. Kim said those responsible officials “overlooked important party decisions, which called for organizational, material, scientific and technological measures to support protracted anti-epidemic work in the face of a global health crisis.”
Since the start of the pandemic, North Korea, already considered the most closed country in the world, has isolated itself further, banning all international travel, including to China and Russia, and restricting domestic travel.
The aim was to prevent the entry of the coronavirus from further exacerbating the country’s already shaken humanitarian situation, although it is almost impossible to verify the claim that the country was free of contamination, as Chad O’Carroll , Managing Director of Korea Group, said at the time Risk (GKR), an advisory and information service specializing in North Korea.
Five hundred and sixteen days after the country was closed again, Kim said the restrictions imposed to curb the pandemic would be maintained, although analysts pointed to a strong impact on the country’s fragile economy, for which tourism is one. of the rare legal possibilities of obtaining a strong currency.
The border closures also affect trade with China, mostly illegal but unofficially authorized by the North Korean dictatorship, as it replaces supply failures in the state’s economy. In another speech this month, Kim said North Korea was going through “the worst situation ever.”
With around 26 million people, North Korea expects to receive 1.7 million doses of vaccine from the Covax consortium, which purchases and distributes vaccines to countries around the world.
However, the entity faced shipping delays mainly due to the lack of global production capacity. Covax also points to a lack of structure and preparation for receiving, storing and distributing drugs — which, according to the manufacturer, require deep freezing.
Kim last week called for tighter controls to create a “perfect pandemic fight,” independent news service NK News, edited by O’Carroll, reported. The agency also cited state media warning of the danger of the delta variant, which is around 60% more contagious than the alpha.
Disclosure Tuesday that the purge included members of the highest decision-making body (the so-called “presidium”), according to KCNA, and “an important military figure”, according to NK News, matches an admission that there is Covid -19 in North Korea, according to dissidents interviewed by the French agency AFP in South Korea.
One of them, a researcher at the World Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul Ahn Chan-il, said the North Korean state agency’s release of Kim’s warnings indicated that the country had need international help.
“Otherwise, they would not have done it, because it inevitably involves acknowledging the failure of the regime itself in its anti-epidemic efforts,” Ahn said, according to AFP.
The last time North Korea publicly admitted a possible Covid-19 outbreak was in July 2020, when a man crossed the country’s most closely guarded border with South Korea. Kaesong town, where the main border control bases are located, was closed for 20 days. A suspected outbreak, however, has not been officially confirmed.
There is also uncertainty about the data communicated by the country to the WHO on the stage of the pandemic. For example, the entity’s weekly report does not contain any information on the number of North Koreans in quarantine, data not shared by the dictatorship since December last year.
Until that moment, the country declared to have isolated more than 32,000 inhabitants and 382 foreigners, all released from quarantine without confirmed contamination.
Last Monday (28), Kim’s regime said that as of June 17, tests had been carried out on 31,083 people and that no cases of the new coronavirus had been found. The latest tests included 149 people with flu-like symptoms or “serious acute respiratory infections,” according to a North Korean report to the WHO.
Last week, South Korea’s foreign ministry said the country would be ready to donate vaccines to its neighbor to the north.