March 06, 2020 12:48
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a letter to President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday asked for help in combating coronavirus, fueling speculation that the outbreak in the North is worse than previously thought.
North Korea has claimed that it does not have a single confirmed case of infection, but there are rumors that the virus is spreading quickly there.
The state-run Rodong Sinmun daily said on Sunday that almost 7,000 people "are in self-quarantine and under medical monitoring."
One researcher at a state-run think tank here said, "North Korea revealed the number of quarantined subjects, because it's feeling the limitations of its medical capacity and wants help from the international community."
The North has sealed its borders, but it was apparently too late because the virus spread when North Korean workers returned from China en masse at the end of last year.
"A large number of confirmed infections have been reported along the west coast linking Pyongyang and Sinuiju," one source said. "North Korean authorities quarantined the workers in hotels in Pyongdok, Dokchon, Sinuiju, Kaechon and Anju."
Another source said North Korea received coronavirus test kits from China in early February and discovered a large number of carriers.
Yet North Korea's propaganda machine apparently lied about the number of infections, while focusing mostly on the situation in South Korea.
North Korean health officials have been alarmed by the rapid spread and ordered trading companies to import protective suits, diagnostic kits and face masks.
Another source said, "After having problems buying quarantine equipment from China, North Korea tried in vain to buy it from international organizations, India and Brazil."
The North has also asked South Korean NGOs to provide quarantine equipment and protective gear.
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