The Russian government was able to get diagnostic test kits to North Korea via a flight to Pyongyang earlier this week after evacuating foreign diplomats and other travelers. This news came via a worker with an American nongovernmental organization who told U.S. News on the condition of anonymity, due to the sensitive nature of the person’s work.
“If they get the tests to run on their machines, we should start to hear about confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a few days,” says the worker, who has extensive experience in North Korea.
The country, under widespread lockdown in response to the global pandemic, has become one of the most troubling blind spots in the international response to the spread of the coronavirus. Global health officials have virtually no information about how the country has been affected by the virus that has roiled neighboring China and South Korea.
“Global health security is only as good as the weakest link,” says Kee Park, director of the North Korea Program at the Korean American Medical Association and a lecturer on global health and social medicine at Harvard University.
North Korea has not acknowledged any confirmed cases of the coronavirus within its borders, while neighboring South Korea documents more than 7,000 cases and China reports almost 5,000 deaths as a result.
Leader Kim Jong Un has attempted to demonstrate that his country is taking the spread of the virus seriously, including allowing the release of photos that show military service members wearing preventative medical masks. North Korea has also launched two rounds of short-range missiles in recent weeks, an effort analysts say is designed to show it remains a potent threat despite the health crisis.
“The main priority really is to make sure DPRK is well equipped to avoid any spread of the disease, the virus,” Fabio Forgione, Doctors Without Borders‘ head of mission for DPRK – an acronym for North Korea’s official name – said in a recent interview. “At the moment, our feeling is they’re really trying to work on prevention. They have in place all the right strategies to try to tackle and prevent the spread of the virus.”
The Russian tests will provide critical information at a time international health workers have struggled to better understand the situation in North Korea.
[US News World Report]