Almost a year into the Coronavirus pandemic and North Korea continues to claim that it has recorded zero cases of the infection. But the claims have been refuted by experts on many occasions due to the country's poor healthcare system. Now, a Seoul-based activist says that his sources in the North have reported that Kim Jong Un's regime is running quarantine camps near the Chinese border.
While information is hard to come by from Pyongyang due to the censorship, some disgruntled North Koreans invariably leak information to the press and non-governmental organizations that offer help. Tim Peters, who runs Helping Hands Korea in Seoul, said that his sources in the North told him that patients in the quarantine camps were given no treatment, food or medicine.
Relatives Bring Food, Medicine
As authorities allegedly left the patients to die in the camps, families were permitted to come to the edge of the camp and provide food or home-made remedies to their loved ones. Many buy medicines from the jangmadang markets or even create their own herbal traditional medicines so that their family members or relatives could live.
However, Peters, whose organization delivers medicine supplies to the North, has been told that many of the patients had already died not just due to the pandemic but also from starvation. "My sources indicate many in these camps have already died, not only from the pandemic but also from starvation and related causes," he told the South China Morning Post.
Peters said that the records of his sources matched with the prison camp survivors who claimed that they were given little to no food. Many inmates had succumbed to death due to starvation if their families could not support them. The quarantine camps are also running the same way. "In short, my sense is that the situation pertaining to Covid-19 inside North Korea is gravely serious," Peters said.
No Testing, No Tracking
While North Korea has never officially acknowledged a positive case of Coronavirus, many defectors have claimed that there were unreported cases of the virus. Their relatives in the North told them that people who had shown symptoms of COVID-19 were forced to isolated and "boarded up in their homes without food or other support and left to die."
The country calls COVID-19 "ghost disease" and also doesn't have the means to track down cases of Coronavirus as per David Lee, who works with defectors from the North in Seoul. "They don't have proper testing kits," the pastor said.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) told the NK News that North Korean authorities had started testing a few citizens who had gone out of the country. As per WHO, only around 3,400 tests were carried out till mid-September and all of them came negative. The country has closed its borders with China since February.
Burn the Dead Bodies
However, the most disturbing claim is that authorities burn the bodies of the patients who succumb to the virus. A human rights activist based out of South Korea told SCMP that the authorities had burned bodies of patients who had similar symptoms. They were suspected to have COVID-19. The patients also included a businessman who had conducted trades with China without government approval.
"The central inspection authorities came from Pyongyang and burned all the bodies. The residents are very anxious," the activist said, adding that one of the dissident broadcasters in the North had provided him with the information.
During the early days of the Coronavirus spread, there were reports that North Korean authorities had allegedly shot dead a patient who contracted the virus. However, none of the reports could have been independently verified as from North Korea's secretive system, information is difficult to come by.