03/10/2020, 13.36
KOREA
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Covid-19 virus kills 180 North Korean soldiers

For the Daily NK, 3,700 soldiers are under quarantine, something North Korea denies. Nevertheless, Pyongyang has increased food rations for soldiers. For the first time, an official source mentions economic losses due to viral disease. Yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supervised an artillery exercise.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak killed 180 North Korean soldiers and forced another 3,700 into quarantine between January and February, this according to the Daily NK, a South Korean news outlet dedicated to North Korean affairs.

South Korea's government-backed Yonhap News Agency has reported that almost 10,000 people have been quarantined as a result of the coronavirus, but nearly 4,000 have been released as they did not show any symptoms.

Despite such stories, Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers' Party of Korea, yesterday said that " The infectious disease did not flow into our country yet.”

The Daily NK attributes its information to a medical report from the North Korean military on the number of soldiers in quarantine and those who died of high fevers triggered by pneumonia, tuberculosis, asthma, and colds.

According to the South Korean publication, North Korean military leaders ordered military hospitals to thoroughly sanitise the areas where soldiers are housed. It also noted that military unit leaders can expect to be punished if proper protocol aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus is not followed.

North Korea has tried to increase food rations for soldiers, so that their bodies are better equipped to resist Covid-19.  The goal is to provide at least 800 grams worth of food per day and eat three meals of puréed soybean soup instead of the usual one per day.

Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean propaganda website, said that the country has taken important anti-coronavirus measures that have come with huge economic losses as the life and safety of people were the government’s priority. This is the first time that Pyongyang admits to economic losses due to viral disease.

Meanwhile, borders with China and Russia have been closed to boost its quarantine measures, most likely stopping the flow of people and goods. Such disruptions are likely to aggravate an already weak economy under heavy pressure from international sanctions.

North Korean authorities have traditionally called for efforts to build a self-sufficient economy without external support, but a prolonged border closure with China, its main trading partner, could undercut such efforts.

What thing the health emergency has not affected is North Korea's military aspirations. Yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is said to have supervised a firepower strike drill of long-range artillery sub-units to “inspect the sudden military counterattack capability of the long-range artillery units on the front”.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as urging the units to "go on in the direction of further strengthening the artillery training”.

But for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the North instead tested three short-range projectiles off its east coast, its second weapon test this week.

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