Kim Myong, who held a senior government role in North Korea before escaping to the West, said it was “absurd lies” to claim the country had no coronavirus cases and the true number “very likely exceeds imagination”. Mr Kim suggested Pyongyang was hiding the true devastation of the coronavirus crisis in a bid to spare China embarrassment.
North Korea is far more vulnerable to COVID-19 than any other country in the world
Writing for the US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Mr Kim said: “China has launched a disinformation campaign to dispute the Chinese origin of the virus.
“If North Korea transparently publicised its coronavirus figures, this could add a factcheck, potentially undermining China’s denial and disinformation campaign.
“The two countries share an 880-mile-long border, and admission of a massive COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea would substantially reinforce evidence that the pandemic originated in China.
“Kim Jong-un might have decided to conceal the real data to avoid embarrassing Chinese premier Xi Jinping.
“With North Korea increasingly isolated on the world stage, China is perhaps its only ally and relations between the two nations are said to be as close as ‘lips and teeth’.”
Mr Kim said the Hermit Kingdom was also desperate to keep its death toll from its citizens and feared society would be terrified if the real impact became known.
Until this week North Korea insisted the country was free of coronavirus although the claims were widely dismissed by the international community.
There were unverified claims in February North Korea had executed a COVID-19 patient by firing squad because he had broken isolation restrictions by visiting a public bath house.
And a Daily NK report last month claimed almost 200 soldiers had died from coronavirus during a major outbreak at their army camp.
Earlier this week health officials in Pyongyang acknowledged cases of the disease had been reported in three areas of the country which borders China where the global pandemic began last December.
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North Korean government officials have reportedly been holding lectures to educate residents about the virus, claiming the country had the fewest number of COVID-19 cases in the world because it had “the most superior socialist healthcare system”.
There are fears a major outbreak in North Korea would be catastrophic due to its poor healthcare system, malnutrition, economic sanctions and its woeful handling of past crises such as the 1990s famine which became known as the “Arduous March”.
Mr Kim said: “North Korea’s healthcare system is fragile and precarious.
“The people of North Korea have long been affected by chronic malnutrition, poor health and weak immunity.
“Consequently, it would be no exaggeration to state that North Korea is far more vulnerable to COVID-19 than any other country in the world.
“Perhaps it would not be unreasonable to assume that North Korea has been more affected than any other country in the world.”
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, North Korea closed its borders and ordered all foreigners in the country to self-isolate for weeks.
There have been unverified claims of cities being locked down and test kits being in short supply.
Mr Kim has called on the international community to pressure North Korea into sharing transparent information and accepting any necessary foreign assistance to save lives.
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