Officials in North Korea, which has yet to report any cases of COVID-19 within its borders, are privately asking for medical aid, according to reports.
Both the Financial Times and Reuters reported last week that the Norks privately reached out to officials in other countries for aid, even though, officially the number of reported cases in the country remains at zero.
“The government has testing kits for COVID-19 and they know how to use them, but [the number of kits are] not sufficient, hence, [officials are] requesting all organizations … to support them in this regard,” a source told the Times.
Reuters reported that North Korean officials have asked aid organizations for supplies such as masks and testing kits, though such supplies were reportedly awaiting entry on North Korea’s heavily protected border.
Some aid agencies reportedly had to get emergency sanction exemptions from the United Nations so they could send shipments, and were being held up by North Korea’s border controls imposed in a bid to shut out the virus.
“North Koreans need assistance and have asked for it, but things are now on hold,” one aid group official familiar with the efforts told Reuters.
Some media outlets in South Korea have reported that the secretive communist regime is concealing the number of its coronavirus cases from the world, according to Business Insider.
Daily NK, a news site focusing on North Korea, also reported that 180 North Korean soldiers died of the virus in January and February, and that another 3,700 were sent to quarantine.
South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said that there were at least two suspected cases of the illness in the city of Sinuiju, which borders China. Daily NK also reported that as many as five people had died of the coronavirus in Sinuiju.
A former World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF official who was based in Pyongyang told Business Insider that he was “concerned” because the country has an insufficient medical system.
“There’s not enough medicine for the country. I’m really concerned about them facing an outbreak,” the official, Nagi Shafik, said.
North Korea borders China, where the viral outbreak first emerged, and through which most of the country’s international travel is routed.
The regime reportedly suspended all flights and trains to and from China on January 31 in response to the outbreak, but it was almost certainly too late to prevent the disease from crossing its borders.
Two other countries that many suspect are fudging cornavirus numbers–albeit not as drastically as North Korea–are China and Russia.
China in March reported major decreases in the number of cases throughout the country, but the communist regime has a history of manipulating data for political gain.
Russia has recorded less than 2,000 COVID-19 cases, and only 9 deaths, suspiciously low numbers for a massive country that borders China.