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Officials in the hermit kingdom were pictured holding a meeting wearing face masks, prompting fresh concerns they are covering up cases of coronavirus. Experts fear that Kim Jong-un’s regime is covering up its infection rate in order to deflect signs of weakness. It comes as the United States said it would lift sanctions and approve humanitarian assistance to North Korea to counter the spread of disease.
On Friday Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman for the US Department of State, said America was “deeply concerned” about the vulnerability of the North Korean people to a coronavirus outbreak.
She said: “The United States is deeply concerned about the vulnerability of the North Korean people to a coronavirus outbreak.
“We strongly support and encourage the work of US and international aid and health organisations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].
“The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organisations.”
South Korean media outlets have reported multiple cases and possible deaths from the virus in North Korea, despite the regime insisting the virus has not yet reached them.
World Health Organization officials based in Pyongyang said they had not been notified of any confirmed cases but their data relies on reports provided by the North Korean government.
Harry Kazianis, director of Jorean Studies at the Center for National Interest is convinced the virus, formally known as COVID-19, has already reached North Korea.
He told FoxNews: “There is no way that North Korea is not being impacted by the coronavirus — they are clearly lying as they don’t want to show any weakness or that there is any threat to the regime.
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“Considering how there are many porous sections of the North Korea-China border — and how the Kim regime depends on illegal trade to survive — it is clear the virus has come to North Korea.”
So far North Korea has taken drastic measures to stop the deadly virus spreading over its border with China.
Officials have stopped airline flights and train services with its neighbours, established weeks-long mandatory quarantines for recently arrived foreigners, suspended international tourism and imposed a near-complete lockdown on cross-border travel.
The government has recently extended the quarantine period for people showing symptoms from 14 to 30 days and people are expected to comply “unconditionally”, according to state media.
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Yesterday it was reported that a North Korean official was executed for breaching quarantine procedures.
The trade official was arrested and immediately shot for visiting a public bath while he was meant to be in quarantine, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported.
The official had been placed in isolation after travelling to China.
Supreme leader Jung-un had previously vowed to “rule by military law” against those who left quarantine without approval.
If hit by the outbreak, experts fear the country would be unable to handle the scale of the infection rate.
Professor Kelly, from Pusan National University, has warned: “North Korea lacks the doctors, hospitals, reserves of medicine, modern medical devices, and so on to respond adequately and prevent a spiralling spread.
“An epidemic would be, as the regime itself realised, a matter of national survival.”
Jean Lee, the director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History, agreed that the regime would be unable to cope with a full blown outbreak.
He told CNN: “North Korea has such a limited supply of basic medicine that public health officials need to focus on preventative medicine. They would be ill-equipped to deal with any kind of epidemic.”
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