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Explainer: how bad is the pandemic in North Korea


After months of saying it kept the coronavirus at bay, North Korea has come closest to admitting that its anti-virus campaign has been less than perfect

Kim Jong Un’s mention of a “great crisis” created by a “significant” failure in national pandemic measures during a ruling party meeting has sparked outside speculation about how bad the situation really is in North Korea.

Take a look at some clues:

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Experts divided on pandemic

Du Hyogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the north could be dealing with a huge COVID-19 outbreak that has spread beyond border towns and rural areas and is now reaching urban centers. , possibly including the capital Pyongyang.

Other experts, including Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Ewa Women’s University, said a large politburo meeting of party officials across the country would have been pre-planned and would not have happened had the virus spread. Aggressively.

Ahn Kyung-su, head of the DPRK Health and Welfare’s Seoul-based research center, said that in case of large outbreaks, the North will take extreme measures to seal off affected areas, something outside surveillance groups has not been detected. .

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Is it about the power shakeup?

Most analysts agree that Kim’s remarks indicate a development that is enough to shake Pyongyang’s leadership.

North’s state media said Kim rebuked senior party and government officials for neglecting “the party’s important decisions on the organizational, institutional, material, scientific and technical measures necessary for the prolonged state emergency epidemic prevention campaign”. .

The report also said that during the meeting the party recalled an unidentified member of the powerful Politburo Presidium, which includes Kim and four other top officials. It is possible that Kim is sacking his cabinet premier, Kim Tok-hun, his top economic official or the party’s central committee secretary Joe Yong Won, who was seen as a rapid riser in Pyongyang’s power cycle.

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Call for outside help?

Even if it was dealing with an alarming increase in infections, there’s little chance the answer would accept it. Still, Kim’s decision to publicly address a major setback in the fight against the pandemic could also be an appeal for outside help.

Cha said North Korea could request stronger aid from China, its main ally and economic lifeline, as they approach the 60th anniversary of their friendship treaty next month.

COVAX, the United Nations-backed program to distribute vaccines around the world, said in February that North could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year. But plans have been delayed due to global shortages.

Kim Sin-gon, a professor at Seoul’s Korea University College of Medicine, said Kim Jong Un aimed to raise international awareness of the North’s pandemic difficulties.

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