NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with Jean Lee, a journalist specializing in North Korea, in regards to the nation’s report of a serious illness outbreak that state media isn’t calling COVID-19, but.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All by means of the pandemic, proper as much as every week in the past at present, North Korea claimed it didn’t have a single case of COVID-19 – not one. Now the nation’s authorities has introduced an outbreak of fevers and illness. North Korea is reporting nearly 2 million suspected circumstances, although it’s nonetheless not calling this COVID. And the vaccination charge there – principally zero.
I need to herald Jean Lee. She is a journalist who focuses on North Korea and who was simply on the border between North and South Korea final week. Hey there.
JEAN LEE: Hello, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Hey. So begin with these numbers. The federal government says nearly 2 million circumstances. They’re confirming dozens of deaths from fever. Will we belief these numbers?
LEE: I feel we should always at all times be a little bit bit suspicious of any info coming from North Korea state media. And naturally, it is so tough to substantiate these as a result of we’re not there. We do not have anybody there who can actually vouch for these figures.
And the opposite factor that I discover astounding is that they have not reported something to the World Well being Group. So I make it a observe to take a look at the WHO COVID-19 dashboard. And it is nonetheless zero circumstances for North Korea, zero confirmed circumstances. And so not even the WHO is ready to actually examine and ensure these numbers.
KELLY: Though I collect you will have your suspicions. Inform me why.
LEE: I discover it exhausting to imagine that North Korea hasn’t had COVID circumstances, to be trustworthy. I imply, it is a nation that shares an extended border with China, and there was a whole lot of site visitors throughout that border within the early weeks of the pandemic in late 2019. So it is exhausting to imagine that there could be no circumstances.
Nonetheless, it is in all probability true that they did not have check kits, so they would not have had the checks to substantiate that it was COVID. And I feel we should always keep in mind that it is a nation that is excellent at protecting up the reality. I feel what’s fascinating is why are they popping out with this info now?
KELLY: Why are they developing with this info now?
LEE: Effectively, it is exhausting for us to inform. It could possibly be that the case rely has simply reached a degree the place it will possibly’t be coated up. However I feel it is extra a matter of timing and that it is a second the place Kim Jong Un is seeking to ship a sign to the surface world and is prepared for North Korea to rejoin the surface world.
He is been retaining the world out for two 1/2 years, sealing the borders, claiming that he is carried out an amazing job defending his folks from this outdoors risk. However that closure of the border has come at a excessive worth for the North Korean folks as a result of which means not solely the folks unable to get forwards and backwards throughout the border, however meals, medication, items have had a really exhausting time getting throughout that border. So I feel he is wanted a option to sort of rejoin the world.
KELLY: If that’s true, if he’s seeking to rejoin the world, why is North Korea turning down provides of vaccines? I discussed that North Koreans aren’t vaccinated. I imply, it is virtually zero.
LEE: The North Koreans had been allotted vaccines by means of COVAX. He had stated no to the vaccines from China. I feel that it was a matter of timing, that he wasn’t prepared to permit these vaccines and consultants who accompany the vaccines to manage them into the nation. And it will be very fascinating to see if he permits them in throughout this disaster.
KELLY: So massive image, what is perhaps the implications right here for Kim Jong Un, for his regime, for his management?
LEE: I do suppose that an unchecked epidemic would have implications for North Korea by way of its public well being. And also you may assume that it could additionally check his management. And it’s a check.
However I do additionally suppose that by making it public, Kim Jong Un feels that he has this beneath management in a sure method. He will use it in a sure method. He has been characterizing the pandemic and COVID as a risk from the surface world. And so I feel in a method that he’ll use it to his benefit, similar to he has each different alternative. So I feel that what I am taking a look at is extra what sort of political alternative is there for him in participating with the surface world?
KELLY: Journalist Jean Lee, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us.
LEE: Thanks a lot.
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