Mystery shrouds coronavirus cases in North Korea amid reports of over 20 deaths

Days after a coronavirus-infected man, the first Covid-19 victim in North Korea, was reportedly shot dead, new reports have emerged that more than 20 people have been infected with the fatal virus in the country.

Coronavirus status as of 1 March, 2020
Coronavirus status as of 1 March, 2020 GISAID

The novel coronavirus which has infected over 80,000 people globally and killed more than 3,000, has so far failed to penetrate North Korea, according to government officials.

Even though state media had reported that the suspected cases were kept under a month-long quarantine, no confirmed case was reported yet.

Under wraps

A highly placed government source has revealed to Daily NK that since January more than 20 people have succumbed to symptoms matching coronavirus in various parts of the country.

It has also been revealed that while the government is keeping a record of those who have died and infected due to the virus, it has kept the information under wraps.

Mobile photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020 shows Gao Yongzhe and Huang Wenli talking with patients at "Wuhan Livingroom" in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Doctor Gao Yongzhe and nurse Huang Wenli are a couple working at the frontline against the novel coronavirus. Although they both spend all day at "Wuhan Livingroom", a temporary hospital, the busy couple barely had time to meet each other. On Feb. 14, under the arrangement of the hospital, the couple met and had a lunch together. As Huang put it, it was their special and meaningful 23rd Valentine's Day even though there was no flower and gift. (Photo by Gao Xiang/Xinhua) Xinhua/IANS

"North Korea's central emergency disease control command statistics show that 23 people have died of acute pneumonia between January and now. This is the result of counting everyone who died after developing a high fever, cough, and severe respiratory difficulties," the source told Daily NK, last month.

Suspected COVID-19 cases emerge in areas bordering China

A total of 82 people with similar symptoms have been quarantined across all regions. Some have been discharged after their symptoms eased, but new patients have continuously arisen, stated the source.

The statistical data provided by the government source revealed the deaths to have been taken place in Pyongyang (7), Sinuiju (8), Ryongchon (4), Raseon (2), and Haeju (2). Those who have been placed under quarantine following the symptoms include patients from Pyongyang (16), Sinuiju (32), Ryongcheon (12), Raseon (15), and Haeju (7). Health officials in North Korea have diagnosed the quarantined patients with acute pneumonia. Among these locations, other than Pyongyang and Haeju, the rest are areas bordering China.

"The disease control command discussed the situation of local acute pneumonia deaths and quarantine measures and concluded that there were no novel coronavirus patients. Officials are under orders to tell people that there are no patients and to emphasize thorough preventative measures," the source disclosed.

Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un IANS

'Serious consequences'

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un had warned of serious consequences in case the fatal virus spreads beyond control in the country. Apart from ordering officials to seal off all channels and space though which the infectious disease may find its way, Kim had called for strengthening of check-ups, tests and quarantine.

KCNA quoted Kim as saying: "In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences. No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system."

Amidst the fear of coronavirus spread, North Korea has cancelled all celebrations and festivities to mark the birthday of late leader Kim Jong il at Pyongyang in February.