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The (Supposed) COVID-19 Situation in North Korea


A website entitled “38 North” recently released North Korea’s COVID-19 statistics. The numbers do not add up. 


As of June 21st, “38 North” reports that North Korea has had 73 total COVID-19-caused deaths. Some predict that, with a 0% vaccination rate, almost every one of the 4.7 million people living in North Korea contracted COVID-19 at some point; this makes North Korea’s COVID-19 death rate abnormally low. 

If the statistics released by North Korea above are true, then their COVID-19 death rate is 0.002%, compared to the global average of 1.18%. Not to mention, developing countries often have higher rates of COVID-19 deaths; Myanmar’s mortality rate is 3.7%, and Chad, Africa’s at 2.6%.  


Furthermore, most countries see a spike in COVID-19 deaths about two to three weeks after an outbreak. North Korea, interestingly, recorded its largest single-day COVID-19 deaths before its massive outbreak. According to North Korean reports, COVID-19 began to spread in late April, and by May 12th, 187,800 people were in treatment for the virus. The outbreak worsened so quickly that by May 19th, 754,810 people were being treated. 


Here is where the first questionable event arises: North Korea claimed that their largest single-day COVID-19 deaths of 21 people occurred on May 13th. From that day forward, there have been one or fewer daily deaths. 

Another discrepancy comes to light when assessing the death toll by age group: North Korea outlined that, before May 17th, the number of COVID-19 deaths was equal for people under 20 years old versus people over 61 years. Compare this to South Korea, where only 31 people under 20 years old died of COVID-19, while 22,859 people over 60 died of the same cause. 

North Korea significantly lacks the resources to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing. Instead of actual COVID-19 tests, many cases are recorded as “fevers.” Urban cities in North Korea are under lockdown to prevent the further spread of the virus. Some people believe that the COVID-19 statistics reported by the North Korean government are tweaked to derive a certain reaction from their people: the high number of COVID-19 cases is meant to trigger widespread urgency to follow and promote COVID-19 safety measures, while the low death rate is meant to avoid causing panic. 


Though we could assume as much as we would like, the reality is that not even the WHO (World Health Organization) knows North Korea’s true COVID-19 situation.


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