Despite their best efforts to cover themselves, North Korea couldn’t hide from the coronavirus. It sealed its borders in late January and shut off business with China, which accounts for nine-tenths of its external trade. North Korean authorities have told citizens that there have been confirmed cases of the coronavirus. This is in contrast to their original claims that they didn’t have any confirmed cases.

The lecturers which leaked this information said there are corona cases in the country, without giving any numbers. This was also echoed by Radio Free Asia (RFA), citing two sources, one in Pyongyang and one in Ryanggang province. 

Pyongyang boasts that not one case of infection has been reported in North Korea. Yet, General Robert Abrams, the commander of the U.S. Forces in South Korea, said in early April that this was “impossible.” “We’re not going to reveal our sources and methods,” General Abrams was reported as stating to journalists, but “that [claim] is untrue.”

According to the leaked information, the cases are in Pyongyang, South Hwanghae province, and North Hamgyong province. North Hamgyong is in the northeast of the country, while South Hwanghae is in the southwest.

Even in a country that has effectively locked its citizens down for decades, this virus could spread rapidly.

Pyongyang has reinforced border checks and ordered all foreigners from any country to spend 30 days in quarantine if their country has reported cases of COVID-19. Additionally, they flew dozens of diplomats out of the country in early March.

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North Korea quarantined all diplomats in Pyongyang for a month. ​

North Korean authorities are “looking into whether there’s still any space for infectious diseases to enter, in line with the whole blockade of borders, airspace and territorial waters until the worldwide virus pandemic is in restraint,” state media KCNA said.

North Korea’s security forces reportedly warned their counterparts in neighboring China that they were able to use weapons to keep their shared border sealed. Smuggling — North Korea’s lifeblood in the era of international sanctions and, as such, long quietly tolerated by the regime — has been completely banned. And a politician has been reportedly executed for attempting to interrupt quarantine.

North Korea’s official newspaper has stressed the importance of “self-reliance,” saying that independence from outside assistance is critical to secure national dignity and survival.

North Korea has ramped up efforts to make its economy, and therefore its military, self-reliant in bracing for an extended fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, global sanctions against its regime, amid little progress in denuclearization negotiations with Washington, have made this increasingly difficult.

Is the North Korean leader dying? Does he have COVID-19?

Whatever the reason, the communist leader, Kim Jong-un, has made strikingly few public appearances during the past three months. He didn’t attend the Supreme People’s Assembly this month, a gathering usually capped by his grand orations. And for the first time in his eight years in power, he decided to skip the celebrations of April 15th, which mark his grandfather’s — the country’s founder — birthday.

An unconfirmed report from Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, said the North Korean leader had undergone heart surgery and was recuperating at a villa outside the capital, Pyongyang.

If Kim Jong-un were to die, complications from heart surgery would be a much better explanation by the regime than Coronavirus would.