March 23, 2020 10:56
Shortages of everyday necessities and soaring prices are bringing North Korea to the brink of bankruptcy.
Sources say rice prices have soared a whopping 25 percent in the provinces and border areas in the last 15 days amid a border lockdown and domestic travel restrictions due to the coronavirus scare.
A source said on March 20 rice prices in open-air markets in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province jumped by 25 percent from 5,040 North Korean won per kilogram on March 5 to 6,300 won on March 19.
Rice prices are rising even though the regime has set a cap of 5,000 won to prevent starvation. Pork prices also soared by 16.7 percent over the period from 15,120 won per kilogram to 17,640 won.
"The price increases are inevitable because of the suspension of both formal cross-border trade and smuggling," a researcher at a government-funded think tank here said. "The prolonged border lockdown could deal an irrecoverable blow to the North Korean economy."
A study puts North Korea's per capita GDP at US$790. In a recent report published in the journal Nature Research, Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria made the estimate based on analysis of the dispersion and intensity of light in commercial satellite images of night views in North Korea, the age structure of the population and employment rates by industry between 2012 and 2018.
The North's official Rodong Sinmun daily on March 20 claimed 1,500 people in South Pyongan Province and 1,090 in North Pyongan Province had been released from quarantine after suspected coronavirus infections. More than 8,000 North Koreans have been released from quarantine so far.
But the daily said that nobody has tested positive and claimed, "The epidemic has not spread into our country yet while the world is in the midst of a pandemic."
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