Over 3.5 million people have tested coronavirus positive and a little less than 250,000 have succumbed to the deadly disease worldwide. Surprisingly, North Korea, which shares a 550 km-long border with China, has not reported a single COVID-19 case. However, a sudden fever outbreak in the country's Ryanggang province, which borders China, has sparked fears of a possible coronavirus outbreak in the Hermit kingdom.
Fever outbreak in North Korea's Ryanggang province
A sudden fever outbreak has occurred in Taehongdan County, Ryanggang Province, Daily NK reported. By April 27, some 21 people died, the news website cited a Ryanggang-based source.
"I can't verify how many more of these yolbyong patients there were after Apr. 27 ... But I have been hearing that there have been an increasing number of patients suffering from an illness of an unknown cause," the source said.
Yolbyong in North Korea refers to all the diseases accompanied by fever. A fever of over 37.5 C, that persists for more than two days is clubbed under yolbyong. These are mostly caused by viral and bacterial infections. "The authorities are calling them simple cases of yolbyong, but medicines used to treat fevers are having no effect", the source said. "The public health authorities in Ryanggang Province are alarmed by the spread of the illness, but there have been no appropriate countermeasures taken [by the authorities] as of yet," he added.
Conventional medicines have been ineffective against Covid-19 as well, triggering alarm over novel coronavirus outbreak in North Korea, which hasn't reported any cases as yet.
Steps taken by North Korea to prevent coronavirus outbreak
North Korea banned the entry of foreign tourists on January 21-22, just before the Chinese New Year's holidays. On January 25, it stopped all trading activities in Sinuiju, a key port for its trade with China. Two days later, it closed its border with China.
Possibility of no coronavirus outbreak in North Korea
It is unlikely that the secretive nation has not witnessed any COVID-19 cases. In addition to sharing borders, China is also North's largest trading partner, accounting for 95 percent of its imports. Although it closed its border with China in January itself, smuggling across the border persisted.
Late in March, Japanese media reported that since February, over 100 North Korean soldiers stationed around China died of suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Around 3,000 people were quarantined in March. The same month, North Korean authorities told its citizens through public lectures that there were confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, Radio Free Asia reported.