There’s a reason Kim Jong Un is loving the COVID outbreak in North Korea

SEOUL—The spread of COVID-19 in North Korea isn’t all bad news for leader Kim Jong Un. By locking down the entire country, he can assert his regime’s power like never before. He has the power to arrest anyone suspected of breaking the rules for any reason, whether it’s looking for food, or to see a friend, or to look for medicine.

He can also pin the scourge on a network of health officials. Your survival is now in jeopardy. Some of those who have been in contact with victims of the disease may be ill, but all fear for their lives as Kim investigates how the disease broke out on a mass scale. He calls for “correction of discrepancies found in drug supplies,” despite knowing that North Korean medical facilities are largely devoid of drugs of any kind, let alone drugs capable of curing COVID-19.

To show he means business, Kim turned to a trusted source of support, his 1.2 million-strong military force, over which he is the supreme commander. Pyongyang’s Korea Central News Agency said it issued an order to “immediately stabilize drug supplies in the city of Pyongyang by involving the powerful forces of the military-medical branch of the People’s Army.”

Military officials faced draconian penalties if they didn’t take quick action to contain a crisis over which they have no real control.

“Unless all senior officials make efforts and show their tireless and fighting spirit,” Kim was quoted as saying, “they cannot take the strategic initiative in the ongoing anti-epidemic war.” They “should not allow the slightest imperfection and vulnerability by they maintain high tension and vigilance in the acute anti-epidemic war”.

The call to mobilize the forces behind the campaign showed frustration in a battle where they have no expertise and no authority other than the ability to conduct a purge on Kim’s behalf. KCNA released the cable in both English and Korean, noting that Kim must prove his full responsibility in front of an international audience.

Kim Jong Un inspects a pharmacy in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2022.

KCNA via Reuters

It’s a simple game of blame and Kim – who is known for ordering the execution of anyone he suspects is working against him or his interests – will not hesitate to jail or kill those accused of not having the disease to have eradicated. He doesn’t say a word about vaccinations, which he’s refused from potential foreign aid workers throughout the pandemic, and he certainly won’t accept any help offered by South Korea’s newly installed President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Never mind that conservative Yoon doesn’t link medical aid to his call for a “complete denuclearization” of the North. Kim also turned down offers of vaccines from Yoon’s liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, who asked him for dialogue and reconciliation long before he acknowledged the pandemic in his own country.

“Kim cannot accept guilt because he is part of a ‘god’, the Kim family regime, which is infallible,” said David Maxwell of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “His conscious political decision-making made the tragedy worse than it should have been. He has prioritized the development of the nuclear and missile programs over the welfare of Koreans living in the North.”

By blaming him, Kim avoids any responsibility for failing to take basic steps needed to stop the spread of the disease. He shrugs off blame from himself and his inner circle, while low-level bureaucrats have become guilty of treason to the country for their inability to prevent a disease his regime had claimed was nowhere within its borders broken out

Of course, this claim was never credible. It was always impossible to imagine that by closing the border with China shortly after the virus was reported in Wuhan in December 2019, Kim actually managed to stop it from entering North Korea. He had either been in denial, refusing to believe what was happening around him, or had waged a campaign of deliberate falsification and disinformation.

One cannot believe the apparently factual reports of his propaganda machine, especially the party newspaper Rodong Sinmun and KCNA, which purport to report the number of deaths from the disease, the number of those infected and the number of those cured.

Employees spray disinfectant and wipe surfaces as part of preventive measures against the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Pyongyang Children’s Department Store in Pyongyang March 18, 2022.

Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images

There is no way to verify these numbers, but we can assume they are far higher than the 1.2 million who had suffered from “fever” and the 50 deaths reported by the North Korean media. NK News, a Seoul-based website, said “fever” is “a likely euphemism for the virus, reflecting a likely North Korea inability to clinically diagnose all positive COVID-19 infections due to limited testing capacity.”

What is certain is that North Korea is in the midst of a dire emergency that presents Kim with a great opportunity to crack down on his own people harder than ever. However, the emergency confronts him with enormous risks. It is possible that he cannot contain widespread dissatisfaction with his rule and will have to face open opposition. He may end up finding his grip weakened or compromised.

“Kim is always deeply concerned about his seizure of power.”

While he “pointed out that the drugs provided by the state were not being delivered to residents in a timely manner via pharmacies,” KCNA said, Kim said, “Cabinet and public health sector supply officials have not rolled up their sleeves.” not properly acknowledging the current crisis, only speaking about the spirit of devotionally serving the people.”

Kim even reprimanded “the director of the Central Prosecutor’s Office for the inaction and negligence of his duty not to feel responsibility and remorse and play any role.”

Such talk is a tangible obfuscation of the simple fact that pharmacy shelves are practically empty, there is no simple cure for COVID anywhere in the world, and Northern hospitals do not have the facilities needed for extreme cases.

The reason for this propaganda blitz is that Kim himself is responsible for diverting enormous funds into a nuclear and missile program that is demonstrating his own power while his healthcare system is known to be grossly inadequate.

A small elite in Pyongyang is believed to have access to all the medical care they need, but the vast majority of North Korea’s 26 million residents have no access to medical care. The reports published by the North Korean media paint an optimistic, completely false picture of Kim’s concern for his people.

Now Kim faces the risk, as much as he hates the idea of ​​having to accept foreign aid in the form of vaccines and medical equipment needed to fight the disease. While he doesn’t say a word about vaccines, he may be forced to embrace them on a large scale. When that happens, foreign donors would insist on knowing who is getting the vaccines, where and how they are being given.

“He fears the outbreak and has been taking steps to prevent or contain it for the past two years,” said Maxwell, a retired army colonel who has served on five tours in South Korea with the special forces. “He implemented more draconian population and resource control measures in the name of COVID to further oppress the Korean people.”

However, given the circumstances, Kim may have no choice but to allow entry to foreign experts who, upon their return, would tell the world how much North Korea is suffering under his rule.

At the moment, Kim is doing everything possible to prevent what is going on and the full extent of the disease from being revealed. While wasting vast sums of money on nuclear warheads and the missiles to transport them to distant targets, Kim has ruthlessly deprived his people of what they need to survive in the form of medicine, food and much more.

“Kim is always deeply concerned about his seizure of power because the real threat to him is not from the United States, as he claims, but from his own people,” said David Straub, a senior retired US diplomat in Seoul. “He has purged the leadership under him, murdered his uncle and half brother and used COVID as an excuse to lock down the entire country from the rest of the world for more than two years. COVID only adds to the domestic threat against him.”

By controlling the “flow of information,” Straub said, “Kim can choose to accept international vaccines or not, while simultaneously blaming others inside and outside North Korea for anything that goes wrong in the country.”

He is currently fighting for his life as North Korea’s head of state. He knows that unless he can contain the disease, he and his regime may not survive. There’s a reason Kim Jong Un is loving the COVID outbreak in North Korea


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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