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Korean scholar: North Korea may deliberately manage the new crown death data nuclear test is not expected to be affected by the epidemic

Korean scholar: North Korea may deliberately manage the new crown death data nuclear test is not expected to be affected by the epidemic

No-traffic signs appear on the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea due to the spread of the coronavirus disease

Since acknowledging the outbreak of the new crown epidemic on the 12th of this month, North Korea has announced more than 3 million cases of fever. However, the country maintains that the epidemic is improving and has never responded to aid offers from South Korea, the United States, and international agencies.

At the same time, North Korea has not stopped its provocative steps, launching three missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, after U.S. President Joe Biden ended his trip to Asia. The seventh nuclear test is also believed to be carried out soon.

Experts with doubts about the accuracy of North Korea’s new crown data: the authorities may manage the death data:

According to the Korean Central News Agency on the 27th, citing data from the National Emergency Epidemic Prevention Command, from 18:00 on the 25th to 18:00 on the 26th of this month, North Korea added more than 100,460 fever patients. Since the end of April, there have been more than 3,270,850 fever patients, of which more than 3,037,690 have been cured.

Combing through the data released by North Korea, it can be found that the number of fever patients reached a peak of nearly 400,000 cases on the 15th of this month, and then began to decline; on the 21st, it fell below 200,000 cases, and continued to decrease. In addition, the cumulative number of deaths so far is 69, and the death rate is only 0.002%, which is far lower than the level of 0.13% in South Korea.

This has given North Korea confidence in its own epidemic prevention measures. The KCNA reported that “the spread of infectious diseases has been effectively contained and controlled, and the momentum of stability is evident and sustained.” North Korea has adopted blockade measures on a region-by-region basis and has put in large quantities of cold and fever medicines, including traditional medicines.

But South Korean experts and government agencies are wary of North Korea’s data.

According to the report of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea to the National Assembly Intelligence Committee, the new crown virus began to spread widely in North Korea at the end of April, but before that, water-borne infectious diseases such as whooping cough and measles have been spreading for a long time. A considerable number of fever cases of water-borne infectious diseases have been reported.” That is, not all patients with fever are confirmed patients with the new crown, and “it is not suitable to give too much meaning to the claim of North Korea (the epidemic situation has improved).”

Zheng Changchang, director of the North Korean Research Center of the Sejong Institute in South Korea (provided by me)

Zheng Changchang, director of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, pointed out to VOA that North Korea lacks testing reagents and cannot count the exact number of confirmed patients. “Some of the fever patients may not be confirmed patients, but there are more asymptomatic patients, and the actual number of patients is expected to far exceed the data released by North Korea.”

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Kim Shin-Kun, a professor at Korea University School of Medicine, pointed out at the seminar on “North Korea’s New Crown Epidemic and Prospects for Domestic and Foreign Relations” on the 26th that if most of the fever patients are new crown patients, then “the actual number of infections may exceed 10 million.”

Kim Shin-Kun also said that the death rate in North Korea is difficult to convince experts about infectious diseases. At present, there are many opinions in the academic circle, including differences in statistical caliber and the fact that residents have developed immunity. But he believes North Korea “manages statistics for epidemic prevention purposes” to reduce residents’ fears.

North Korea’s attitude towards vaccines and drugs has become negative. Scholar: Will not accept US and South Korea aid:

After North Korea acknowledged the outbreak, the governments of South Korea and the United States have proposed plans to assist with medical supplies such as vaccines, but North Korea has not responded.

The South Korean government sent North Korea a document on epidemic prevention cooperation through diplomatic channels on the 16th of this month, but North Korea has not made it clear whether it is willing to accept it. On the 23rd, the South Korean government asked again by telephone, but the other party still did not answer.

US President Biden said in response to reporters’ questions at a joint press conference after the US-South Korea summit on the 21st that the US proposed a vaccine assistance plan to North Korea, but failed to receive an answer. The United States reiterated its willingness to provide aid to North Korea on the 25th.

North Korea has also not requested assistance from international institutions and civil society.

According to a report by Bloomberg on the 18th, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which operates the New Coronary Pneumonia Vaccine Implementation Program (COVAX), said it is ready to help if Pyongyang asks, but has not received any so far.

Citizen groups such as the South Korea-North Korea Cooperation Civil Society Association announced on the 19th a $10 million aid plan for medical supplies to North Korea, including rapid testing of reagents, pharmaceuticals, etc., but North Korea made no statement. The groups called on North Korea “to sit at the dialogue table where substantive measures can be taken to minimize the suffering of the residents”.

And as the outbreak slows, North Korean authorities are turning negative on vaccines and medicines.

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According to Yonhap News Agency, KBS, and other media reports, the “Rodong Sinmun”, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, reported on the 24th that pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines that can effectively deal with various mutant strains, and therapeutic drugs have also been successfully developed, “but whether the global use within the scope is still questionable.” The newspaper also reported on the 21st that he was still infected after three injections.

In the reports on the 17th and 18th, the newspaper once emphasized that “vaccination is necessary” and “vaccination is a matter of life and death.”

Shin Jong-woo, research committee member of the Korea National Defense and Security Forum (provided by me)

In an interview, Shin Jong-woo, a researcher at the Korea National Defense and Security Forum, said North Korea could not accept aid from the United States, South Korea, or international institutions. North Korea and the U.S. are still in a tough confrontation, and “(North Korea) has always claimed that it has been unfairly sanctioned by the U.S. and other international communities, and it is not in line with its internal logic to accept assistance from the international community.” Not to mention that the country can get help from Russia and China.

Zheng Changchang also believes that North Korea will not accept external, especially Western, epidemic prevention assistance for a long period of time. However, “If Omikjon causes a sudden increase in the number of deaths, North Korea will first turn to China for help. If there is a difficult situation that even China’s assistance cannot solve, then North Korea will have to consider assistance from the Western world.”

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov discussed epidemic prevention cooperation with the North Korean Ambassador to Russia Shin Hong Chol on the 17th local time. But the specific content has not been disclosed.

China’s foreign ministry has also expressed its willingness to provide aid to North Korea. Some South Korean media, citing diplomatic sources, reported that China had dispatched medical personnel, but these reports have not been officially confirmed.

Scholars: North Korea’s provocation shows that the situation on the peninsula is expected to continue to be tense-

Despite the spread of the epidemic, North Korea continued its provocation with force. According to South Korean military sources, on the morning of the 25th, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles in the East China Sea from Pyongyang, the first of which was presumed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.

In response, the U.S. and South Korea responded with joint surface-to-surface missile firing and an “elephant walk” exercise. The U.S. and South Korean missile forces fired one Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile and one Xuanmoo-II missile, respectively.

Yoon Seok-joon, research member of the Korea Institute of Military Affairs (provided by me)

Yoon Seok-jun, a research member of the Korea Institute of Military Studies, pointed out to VOA that North Korea’s move was to show that the country was not affected by the epidemic and to respond to Biden’s South Korea-Japan trip. However, it is worth noting that “North Korea carefully selected the test launch after Biden’s Air Force One entered the airspace of the United States”, which means that “the leverage effect of North Korea’s nuclear missiles has almost been exhausted.”

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Multiple sources of information also show that North Korea’s seventh nuclear test is approaching.

The South Korean presidential office said at a regular press conference on the 25th that it detected that North Korea is conducting a nuclear detonator start-up test to prepare for the seventh nuclear test. While it’s highly unlikely within the next day or two, it’s entirely possible after that.

North Korea's official March 2022 photo of leader Kim Jong Un inspecting an intercontinental ballistic missile.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sullivan said on the 22nd flight to Japan with Biden that North Korea’s actions have their own rules. Although there has been no nuclear test since the establishment of the Biden administration, it will be conducted in the future.

Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on the 20th that according to the information the agency has, more nuclear materials and enrichment equipment, and new sites are operating for North Korea’s approaching nuclear test.

Experts pointed out to VOA that North Korea’s nuclear test was driven by internal needs such as technology and was not subject to external influence. Xin Zongyou believes that “North Korea will conduct a nuclear test after the start-up test of the detonator is completed and the Hwasong-17 ICBM has been successfully tested.” At present, the Hwasong-17 ICBM is considered to be still in the unfinished stage.

Yoon Seok-Joon also said that North Korea has many problems in the technical aspects of carrying nuclear bombs on projectiles. “In order to carry nuclear warheads on various projectiles, North Korea will continue to conduct nuclear tests in the future.”

However, Xin Zongyou believes that this will not make a big change in the situation on the Korean peninsula. “The tough confrontation between North Korea and the United States will continue, and the new South Korean government will respond to North Korea’s actions in accordance with principles.”

Yoon Seok-Joon pointed out that what is different from the past is that the North Korean nuclear threat has been mentioned at the summit talks between the United States and ASEAN, South Korea and Japan, and the Quartet Security Dialogue Summit. In addition, the United States and South Korea are likely to take military countermeasures, and “the pressure on North Korea will intensify in the future.” 

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