North Korea keeps borders closed as COVID-19 cases grow in neighbouring countries

North Korea, one of the first countries to close its border after spread of the coronavirus started, claims to be free of COVID-19, prioritizing the protection from the spread of coronavirus much more than any other government objective. Borders to neighbouring countries, namely South Korea and China remain closed even though North Korea suffers economically. This complicates situations for North Korea, because border closure means it has little support from ally China at a critical time in its fight with the South.

North Korea and COVID-19

With the exponential rise in coronavirus cases across the world, and many cases of spread re-occurring in areas where COVID-19 was otherwise believed to be ‘managed’, growing concerns arise among leading officials of numerous countries. The President of North Korea, may be considered most cautious out of all world leaders, taking no chances against a potential spread of COVID-19 in his country.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un warned against the “hasty” relaxation of anti-coronavirus measures, state media reported Friday, indicating the country will keep its borders closed for the foreseeable future. The nuclear-armed North closed its borders in late January as the virus spread in neighbouring China and imposed tough restrictions that put thousands of its people into isolation.

North Korea claims to be free of COVID-19

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with similar symptoms to the disease.

Pyongyang insists it has not had a single case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that has swept the world infecting more than 10.8 million people and killing over 500,000.

Read more: North Korea will end South liaison office over anti-Kim leaflets

Analysts say the North is unlikely to have avoided the contagion and that its ramshackle health system could struggle to cope with a major outbreak.

But Kim told a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Thursday that its efforts had been a “shining success”, the official KCNA news agency reported.

“We have thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus,” it cited him as saying, “despite the worldwide health crisis”.

Read more: North korea dodges UN sanctions by taking help from China

Kim cautioned against any “self-complacence or relaxation”, calling for stricter anti-epidemic efforts while “re-infection and re-expansion of the malignant contagious disease persists in neighbouring countries”.

Kim Jong Un’s response to COVID-19 in neighbouring countries

South Korea is currently recording around 40 to 60 cases a day, while China saw a surge of infections in Beijing last month.

At the meeting Kim “repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis”, KCNA added.

The comments by Kim Jong Un indicate North Korea will maintain its self-imposed blockade, which has also hit trade with China, its key backer and aid provider.

Read more: North Korea to send troops to demilitarized border; demolishes liaison office

Several embassies in Pyongyang have temporarily closed as they have been unable to bring in supplies, money and staff.

Under the current rules, any arrivals must spend 30 days in strict quarantine and diplomats and analysts believe the border could remain closed for the rest of the year.

North Korea deems preventing outbreak of COVID-19 most important 

“It has no choice but to keep its border closed with China, it is something inevitable for the North,” said Hong Min, director of the North Korean division at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

“Its border closure with China may harm its economy, but the Pyongyang leadership seems to have determined preventing a coronavirus outbreak is more important in keeping control of the country.”

Read more: North Korea will not entertain denuclearisation, warns Pyongyang

More than 40 percent of North Korea’s 25 million people are considered food insecure.

Last month a United Nations rights expert warned food insecurity is deepening and some people are “starving” as a result of North Korea’s attempts to ward off any outbreak, particularly closing borders. Before the coronavirus crisis, more than 40 percent of people in North Korea were already considered food insecure, with many suffering malnutrition, nobody knows to which extent this number may have gone up following the accelerated spread of coronavirus cases around the globe.

Touching almost every country on earth, COVID-19 has infected at least 10.7 million people and claimed some 516,000 lives as it upends ordinary and economic life in unprecedented ways.

The effects of the novel coronavirus can be seen echoing throughout the post-modern world with many countries like Italy turning into a country-wide graveyard, and others like Pakistan giving preference to economic goals over concerns of a growing pandemic, fearing much more for its poor hungry people and dying economy. Neither can be deemed correct or wrong, and only time will reveal the lapses in judgement made by the officials in each country, respectively.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

According to North Korea’s claims, will it manage to effectively stay free of COVID-19? Share your view with us in the comments bar below.

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