Du Hyeogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the North could be dealing with a huge COVID-19 outbreak that has spread beyond border towns and rural areas and is now reaching urban centers, possibly including capital Pyongyang.
While North Korea has told the World Health Organization it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, experts widely doubt its claim considering its poor health infrastructure. Cha said North Korea has no other way to deal with outbreaks than quarantining people and locking down entire areas until transmissions subside.
Other experts, including Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, said the large Politburo meeting attended by party officials from across the country would have been planned in advance and may have not taken place if the virus was circulating aggressively.
In case of large outbreaks, the North would deploy extreme measures to seal off affected regions, something outside monitoring groups haven’t detected, said Ahn Kyung-su, the head of the Seoul-based Research Center of DPRK Health and Welfare.