“The organizational power and unity unique to the society of (North Korea) is fully displayed in the struggle to bring forward a victory in the emergency anti-epidemic campaign by fully executing the anti-epidemic policies of the party and the state,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.
North Korea’s claimed zero cases could still have symbolic significance in its efforts to establish Kim’s image as a leader who has controlled the outbreak much faster than other countries. Kim would need such credentials to garner greater public support to surmount economic hardships caused by pandemic-related border closings, U.N. sanctions and his own mismanagement, observers say.
“In North Korea, public healthcare and politics can’t be separated from each other, and that aspect has been revealed again in its COVID-19 outbreak,” said Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea. “Since they began with manipulated data, they’re now putting an end to the outbreak with manipulated data.”
The zero cases have been widely expected as North Korea’s daily fever caseload has been nosediving in recent days — there were three reported cases on Friday and 11 on Thursday — from a peak of about 400,000 a day in May. The country, which lacks test kits, has identified only a fraction of its 4.8 million fever patients as confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Many outside experts earlier worried the North’s outbreak would have devastating consequences because most of its people are believed to be unvaccinated and about 40% are reportedly undernourished. But now, activists and defectors with contacts in North Korea say they haven’t heard about anything like a humanitarian disaster happening in North Korea.