More than six months after the start of the corona pandemic, North Korea officially reports a first suspect. A “defector” is said to have introduced the pathogen. Ruler Kim warns of a “deadly and destructive disaster”. Experts doubt the official version.

North Korea has officially confirmed a suspected coronavirus case for the first time. At a crisis meeting of the Politburo, head of state Kim Jong Un declared the “maximum alarm”, according to the state news agency KCNA. A curfew has been imposed on the city of Kaesong on the border with South Korea.

According to North Korean sources, the allegedly infected person is said to be a “defector” who went to South Korea three years ago. A week ago, he “illegally crossed the border” and returned to North Korea. Independent observers consider this representation to be not very plausible: the border between the two Korean brother states is closely guarded by both sides.

Coronavirus deepest in North Korea?

An unnoticed border crossing seems almost impossible: The barrier belt with barbed wire fences, minefields, watchtowers and electronic signaling systems runs hundreds of kilometers across the Korean peninsula. No crossing of the border was reported from the South Korean side.

According to KCNA, the patient is in “strict quarantine” in Kaesong. It was a “dangerous situation” that could “lead to a fatal and destructive catastrophe”. KCNA quoted President Kim as saying “the malicious virus may have entered the country.”

In the past six months since the outbreak of the coronavirus in neighboring China, North Korea has so far not had a single case of infection, according to official statements. A spread of the pathogen in North Korea would have devastating consequences in the internationally isolated, almost completely isolated and authoritarian-led military dictatorship. Experts fear that North Korean healthcare would not be able to cope with an epidemic.

Foreclosed and internationally isolated

North Korea had already cut off the few connections abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic at the end of January and closed all border crossings. However, the 1,400-kilometer-long border with China is considered permeable, especially in winter, when frozen rivers make it possible to cross and the black market along the border is flourishing. Observers suspect that the virus should have entered the country before the border was closed.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus has long since entered China from China, said Go Myon Hyun from the Asan Institute for Political Science. In his view, the recent announcements could be thought of as diversions. Pyongyang is hanging the allegedly imported case from South Korea on the big bell to brand defectors as “dangerous beings”. If the virus were already circulating in the population of North Korea, the number of deaths would increase. So far, however, there is no indication of how many people have already contracted North Korea. Reliable data are not available.

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