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North Korea in the Era of COVID-19 Pandemic Dr. John Linton Updated: 2020-03-26 14:34:23 KST

The COVID-19 is spreading spreading fast and affecting hundreds of thousands across the globe. Over the last four months, the coronavirus pandemic has seen an outbreak in multiple countries around the world at the same time prompting the World Health Organization to declare it a pandemic.
COVID-19 has swept into at least 175 countries and territories resulting in more than 471-thousand cases - many of them in China which shares a 880-mile border with North Korea.
North Korea still has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness.
Let's delve into this issue. Live in the studio with me is Dr. John Linton, Professor of Family Medicine at Severance Hospital.
Dr. Linton, welcome to the program.

We've been hearing news that North Korea has secretly asked for international help to increase coronavirus testing in the regime as the pandemic threatens to cripple its fragile healthcare system.
After reports of the outbreak emerged from Wuhan in January, North Korea immediately shut its borders and its officials have not reported any confirmed cases of coronavirus. This is despite the deadly disease sweeping through neighbouring China and South Korea over the past three months.
As a health care expert who's done extensive work with North Korea, what are your thoughts on this?

North Korea's official stance is that it has zero numer of COVID-19 positive cases inside that state.
Although some of us may find that hard to believe, we don't have hard evidence to believe otherewise either. Therefore, so far, it looks like its draconian measure of sealing its borders very early on, suspending all tourism, quarantining all foreign nationals, shutting down many public sites, and closing all schools for a month have worked pretty well.
Since the WHO has declared it a pandemic, do we expect Pyeongyang to have made changes to its quarantine, preventive measures?

Based on your knowledge and specialty in public health conditions in North Korea - you have visited North Korea nearly 30 times in the last 20 years to provide medical support there - and cases of infectious disease outbreaks there, what would a COVID-19 outbreak mean for a state like North Korea?

Does a pandemic like COVID-19 open up opportunities for the two Koreas to resume inter-Korean cooperation?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed a public health cooperation with North Korea during the March 1st Independence Day Movement Speech. By public health cooperation, what kind of collaboration can we expect? As a medical expert, what kind of cooperation with the North would you like to see?

North Korea's state media has in recent days been issuing reports decrying the damage COVID-19 is doing not to its public health, but to its economy.
A state outlet reported that government-mandated measures put in place to stop the virus, such as large-scale quarantines, have caused huge economic losses. Of course not stated there, but vital is its informal private sector. If such conditions were to persist, what will it mean for the average North Koreans?

Shifting gears a little bit and turning to your medical expertise, what is your assessment of the coronavirus outbreak here in South Korea? We've seen a general downward trend in the number of daily jump in COVID-19 positive cases. Are you out of the woods, yet?

What are some key factors that will determine the COVID-19 situation here in South Korea in the next few weeks?

Overall, what is your forecast of the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you believe the global spread can be contained in the next couple of months? Do we expect COVID-19 to become a seasonal disease?

Dr. John Linton, Professor of Family Medicine and Director of International Health Care Center at Severance Hospital. Many thanks for your insights this evening. We appreciate it.
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