Despite Kim Jong Un’s claims that North Korea has been spared from the coronavirus, sources in the Hermit Kingdom said victims of the deadly illness have been left to starve in secret “quarantine camps,” according to a report.
Tim Peters, a Christian activist who runs Seoul-based nonprofit Helping Hands Korea, told the South China Morning Post that the sources have reported that patients are suffering at camps near the Chinese border.
“One of the more alarming pieces of information that has come our way is that the DPRK government is providing absolutely minimal or no food or medicine to those who are interred there,” Peters told the outlet, using the acronym for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“So, it’s up to the families of the quarantined citizens to come to the edge of the camps and bring food to keep quarantined relatives alive along with whatever health-related aids that they can muster, whether it be purchased medicines sold in the jangmadang markets, or even herbal home remedies gathered from mountainsides,” he said.
“My sources indicate many in these camps have already died, not only from the pandemic but also from starvation and related causes,” added Peters, whose group delivers medical and other supplies to the North.
He said the reported neglect matched accounts from survivors of the rogue regime’s prison camps, where “providing an absolutely minimum amount of food” is routine and inmates often die of starvation without help from their families.
“In short, my sense is that the situation pertaining to COVID-19 inside North Korea is gravely serious,” he told the South China Morning Post.
David Lee, a Seoul-based pastor who works with North Korean defectors, said refugees have reported cases of people with symptoms “being forced into isolation, or being boarded up in their homes without food or other support and left to die.”
He said North Korean officials lacked means to track the spread of the illness known inside the country as the “ghost disease.”
“They don’t have proper testing kits,” he told the outlet.
Another South Korea-based human rights activist said he had learned that several bodies were recently incinerated after a suspected coronavirus case involving a trader who secretly did business with China.
“The central inspection authorities came from Pyongyang and burned all the bodies,” said the activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that he got his information from a dissident broadcaster in the North.
Soldiers take part in a military-civilian rally at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.
Kyodo News/Sipa USA
A health worker sprays disinfectant as part of preventive efforts against the novel coronavirus upon arriving at the Okryu restaurant in Pyongyang.
“The residents are very anxious,” he told the South China Morning Post, which said it could not independently confirm the information it received about the pandemic in the country.
Last month, Kim said during a massive military parade in Pyongyang that he was grateful no one in his country had contracted the bug.
The World Health Organization recently told NK News that almost 3,400 North Koreans had been tested for the illness as of mid-September — a tiny fraction of the roughly 25 million people — with all results coming back negative.
Kee Park, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School who has made multiple humanitarian trips to North Korea, said he found it “plausible” that the North could have kept COVID-19 out.
“As you know the country has essentially locked itself shut very early in January and the bordering Chinese provinces do not have many cases,” Park told the Morning Post.
“We can also see the limited relaxation of domestic movement and school openings as a proxy for their level of confidence in their ability to keep the virus out,” he added.