Russian embassy says North Korea lifted lockdown in capital
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Russia’s embassy in North Korea says the country has eased stringent epidemic controls in capital Pyongyang that were placed during the past five days to slow the spread of respiratory illnesses.
North Korea has not officially acknowledged a lockdown in Pyongyang or a re-emergence of COVID-19 after leader Kim Jong Un declared a widely disputed victory over the coronavirus in August, but the Russian embassy’s Facebook posts have provided rare glimpses into the secretive country’s infectious disease controls.
The embassy posted a notice Monday issued by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry informing foreign diplomats that the “special anti-epidemic period” imposed in Pyongyang since Wednesday was lifted as of Monday.
Last week, the embassy said that North Korean health authorities required diplomatic missions to keep their employees indoors and also measure their temperatures four times a day and report the results to a hospital in Pyongyang. It said the North Korean measures were in response to an increase in “flu and other respiratory diseases,” but it didn’t mention the spread of COVID-19 or restrictions imposed on regular citizens.
Shortly before that post, NK News, a North Korea-focused news website, cited a North Korean government notice to report that health officials had imposed a five-day lockdown in Pyongyang in an effort to stem the spread of respiratory illnesses.
North Korean state media in recent weeks have stressed vigilance against a possible re-emergence of COVID-19. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which previously described the anti-virus campaign as the “No. 1 priority” in national affairs, called for North Koreans to maintain a “sense of high crisis” Monday as COVID-19 continues to spread in neighboring countries.
North Korea maintains it has had no confirmed COVID-19 cases since Aug. 10, when Kim used a major political conference to declare the country has eradicated the coronavirus, just three months after the country acknowledged an omicron outbreak.
While Kim claimed that the country’s purported success against the virus would be recognized as a global health miracle, experts believe North Korea has manipulated disclosures on its outbreak to help him maintain absolute control.
From May to August, North Korea reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” across its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. Experts say the country’s official death toll of 74 is abnormally small, considering the country’s lack of public health tools.
North Korea has dubiously insisted that rival South Korea was responsible for its COVID-19 outbreak, saying that the virus was transported by anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other materials flown across the border by balloons launched by South Korean civilian activists. South Korea has dismissed such claims as unscientific and “ridiculous.”
Kim Tong-hyung, The Associated Press