North Korea | 27 May 2022

North Korea: The pandemic has arrived, but why admit it now?

Show: false / Country: North Korea /

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has finally arrived in North Korea. As reported by Reuters on 18 May 2022, he has now mobilized the armed forces to support the country’s health institutions.

World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller comments: “International experts have always doubted the persistent past claims that there were no COVID-19 infections in North Korea, especially in the face of its close ties and geographic proximity to China. That is why the official announcement of a rapid rise in ‘fever cases’ has come as something of a surprise. According to the NK News-COVID tracker, the North Korean authorities have reported 3.17 million ‘fever cases’ and 68 ‘fever deaths’, along with 168 COVID cases and one COVID death, as of 26 May 2022. Given the already dire situation of the country’s health facilities, especially outside the capital Pyongyang, two questions immediately come to mind: Will the regime accept the offers of international help? And why has it admitted the presence of the pandemic at this particular point in time?”

Thomas Muller answers: “Until now, the North Korean authorities had always rejected international offers of medical assistance, including those from the WHO and its Covax program (BBC News, 1 September 2021). This can be seen as being consistent with their claim of zero COVID infections. But even now, the regime may prefer to accept aid from neighboring China rather than having to agree to work with other international partners. Reportedly, freightliners from Pyongyang have already been sent to China.”

Thomas Muller continues: “As for the timing of the announcement, this may have something to do with the recent election of a new president in South Korea and US President Biden’s upcoming visit to Seoul (The Interpreter, 20 May 2022). North Korea wants to stay high on the list of US priorities and not be sidelined by topics such as competition with China or the Ukraine war.”

Thomas Muller adds: “If asked what this announcement means for the hidden Christians in the country, then it must be said that any medical help is welcome, since they suffer from the absence of intensive healthcare just like the majority of the population. But for those banned to the prison camps, there is no access to proper medical facilities of any sort and it is more or less certain that any humanitarian or medical aid will not be allowed to reach them.”


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