COVID19 North Korea Update # 1

February 24, 2020

This is the first in a projected series of updates on what is known about the impact of the COVID19 epidemic in North Korea.

With the spread of Coronavirus (COVID19) NCNK receives questions about the situation and North Korea. A significant element of the population is at special risk given the findings of the UN's 2019 "DPRK Needs and Priorities Report" advising that 40 percent of the population - around 11 million people - are undernourished.

As you scan media reports regarding topics surrounding COVID19 and North Korea, keep in mind that some of the reporting you are reading may be inaccurate or incomplete.

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions and our responses.

Are there cases of COVID19 inside North Korea?

Very likely.

Does North Korea have the technical capability to test for COVID19?

Unknown, with many thinking it is unlikely. This is a difficult question and a point of debate within the humanitarian/medical communities. It is amplified by uncertainty as to whether North Korea has the necessary diagnostic equipment, supplies and adequately trained personnel to conduct the tests with accuracy.

North Korea has closed its borders.  How can medical supplies enter the country?

At the present time, the bridge between Dandong, China and Sinuiju, North Korea is reportedly the only entry for transportation of medical materials.

Is it possible for medical supplies to be taken into North Korea by air or sea?

This may be an evolving situation. Through last week, North Korean officials reported that planes or ships carrying medical supplies would not be allowed to arrive.

Is North Korea having any contact with the international humanitarian community in addition to the United Nations regarding the COVID19 situation?

Yes.  North Korean officials are in contact with the international NGO humanitarian community exploring prospects for assistance.

Does the United Nations have an office in North Korea?

Yes. Multiple UN agencies have offices inside North Korea.  However, the present number of UN staff is below the normal level due in part to some having earlier departed the country for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Has the US State Department commented about the North Korea - COVID19 situation.

Yes. According to a State Department spokesperson, "We strongly support and encourage the work of US and international aid and health organizations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in the DPRK. The United States is prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations".