Coronavirus situation in North Korea remains unclear, could be specially deadly, expert says

The coronavirus continues to advance globally as reports of varying degrees of harm go from bad to worse in certain sections of the world.

In secretive North Korea, information on the spread of the virus and the amount of people infected has been held very tightly.

A slight opening into the impact of the disease in the reclusive country may have been witnessed Sunday, when a picture taken by the official government news agency – the Korean Central News Agency – showed a high-ranking government official wearing a black face mask.

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a military drill at undisclosed location in North Korea on Monday, March 2, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a military drill at undisclosed location in North Korea on Monday, March 2, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Analysts have speculated North Korea reduced training and other activities with large troop gatherings to reduce the chance of the virus spreading among its military, The Associated Press reported Monday.

North Korea has not revealed any signs of the illness, though state media has hinted at some people being quarantined while showing symptoms.

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James Carafano of The Heritage Foundation wrote in a recent op-ed piece for Fox News that Pyongyang had closed its border with China.

Lack of trade and travel – even a temporary ban – will further cripple the economy of what is already the poorest country on Earth. The bottom line: Starving North Koreans will starve more, Carafano wrote.

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North Koreans are tough, Carafano also noted. They have suffered through decades of deprivation and pain at the hands of the regime in Pyongyang, so they will likely survive this.

Still, if the virus gets loose in North Korea, it will be hellish, he said. Most North Koreans are malnourished, and malnourished people have depressed immune systems. People with depressed immune systems are more likely to get the flu and more likely to be debilitated by it.

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What will happen to the sick? The state of North Korea’s health care is thought to be pretty appalling. The sick will die.

But until we know what’s going on in North Korea, there’s really nothing we can do for them, Carafano said. In the meantime, we can best spend our effort cooperating with the rest of the world in limiting the spread of the virus. That means implementing responsible travel, testing, treatment and public health policies, as well as delivering appropriate humanitarian assistance, he concluded.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.