In photo: Children in North Korea
North Korean defector Timothy Cho shares about the possible situation of North Koreans—including our brothers and sisters in Christ—if the new coronavirus would spread to the country.
A new malicious virus, the coronavirus, has been spreading into different countries and regions in Asia. On top of the systematic persecution and oppression faced by secret believers in North Korea, they are now also in danger from this global epidemic.
The country has not confirmed any cases of infection, but North Pyongang Province reported that on 7 February five people died after suffering from high fevers at hospitals in Sinuiju, close to the border with China. Pyongyang denied that their deaths were from the coronavirus. However, North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health hints that those who are suspected to be infected, such as those with a fever or cough, are being quarantined and treated.
If there really are people infected with the coronavirus in North Korea, this will have a serious impact. The country has almost no medical facilities or medications. This was one of the reasons why cholera and SARS caused the deaths of many vulnerable children on the streets of North Korea. I was one of those children infected with cholera, and was just waiting for death, without food and medicine.
A former North Korean diplomat has said, ‘Even the elites have to ration expired paracetamol or ibuprofen when contagious diseases break out.’ If this is the case for even the elites, it explains why North Korea is unable to provide any medical treatment for ordinary people infected with any type of contagious disease.
Increased security leads to increased prices
Almost as serious as the danger of catching the coronavirus are the problems caused by North Korea’s attempts to prevent the disease from coming into the country. Pyongyang has decided to completely shut down the border with China and increase the numbers of KPA (the Korean People’s Army) at the border.
This stops people from being able to smuggle in food and medicines, and has caused shortages in the raw materials required to operate the factories. According to escapees’ family members in North Korea, in just two weeks, food prices have skyrocketed: 1kg rice has gone up from KPW 4,000 to KPW 6,500, 1kg soybean is up from KPW 8,000 to KPW 15,600, and 1kg flour is up from KPW 4,200 to KPW 6,175.
Fuel prices have also gone up. 1kg diesel is now KPW 11,315, up from KPW 7,500. This will be a serious problem for those trying to survive North Korea’s freezing winter.
If the coronavirus situation goes on, it could lead to long-term problems – even a second economic crisis, leading to starvation for millions.
Given North Korean’s history of failing to report any outbreaks of contagious diseases, I humbly ask for your prayers for the secret believers in North Korea who are suffering in this difficult situation. Pray also for the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children that live on the streets and are more susceptible to infection, with no one to care for them. Open Doors work has been affected by this crisis, though we can’t say how for security reasons – please pray that God will continue to use Open Doors workers to care for His people. And pray for God’s mercy on the North Korean regime, that their hearts might open to see the truth in Jesus and His love.