It's official. The COVID-19 causing coronavirus outbreak is no longer just an outbreak.
It is officially a pandemic.
Over three months since the first case was reported out of Wuhan, China, the director-general of the World Health Organization declared the respiratory disease a pandemic.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic."
A pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time and this marks the global health body's first acknowledgment of the geographical widespread of COVID-19 viral disease that's swept into at least 114 countries, resulting in more than 115-thousand cases and killed over 4-thousand - most of them in China which shares a 880-mile border with North Korea.
North Korea still has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness.
Let's delve into this issue. Live in the studio with me is Dr. Go Myong-hyun, Research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Myong-hyun, welcome to the program.
North Korea was also quick to report WHO's declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic in the early morning hours here in Korea on its state propaganda media.
In fact, Pyeongyang has been rather vigilant in following up on the novel coronavirus situation in South Korea and elsewhere around the world to its domestic audience. The leadership in North Korea isn't particularly well known for information transparency for its people. What can we make out of this?
Earlier this week, foreign diplomats were evacuated from Pyeongyang on a special flight.
Last week, 36-hundred people in North Korea were reportedly released from quarantine - quite a drastic measure if there really wasn'tt a single COVID-19 case - with leader Kim Jong-un warning of
"serious consequences" if COVID-19 gets into the country.
Does this provide us any hints as to what may be happening in North Korea?
North Korea's official stance is that it has zero numer of COVID-19 positive cases inside that state.
Although some of us may find that hard to believe, we don't have hard evidence to believe otherewise either. Therefore, so far, it looks like its draconian measure of sealing its borders very early on, suspending all tourism, quarantining all foreign nationals, shutting down many public sites, and closing all schools for a month have worked pretty well.
Now that the WHO has declared it a pandemic, do we expect Pyeongyang to make changes to its quarantine, preventive measures?
Based on your knowledge and specialty in public health conditions in North Korea and cases of infectious disease outbreaks there, what would a COVID-19 outbreak mean for a state like North Korea?
The regime has sent pleas for international help to UNICEF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Doctors Without Borders, and the World Health Organization; some of these organizations have already secured sanctions exemptions to ship vital equipment to North Korea. Does a pandemic like COVID-19 open up opportunities for the two Koreas to resume inter-Korean cooperation?
By this, I mean, the kind of public health cooperation that South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed on the first day of March or the production of face masks that we're seeing a supply shortage at the now-suspended joint industrial complex in Gaesong?
On Tuesday, North Korea's state media issued a report decrying the damage COVID-19 is doing not to its public health, but to its economy.
A state outlet reported that government-mandated measures put in place to stop the virus, such as large-scale quarantines, have caused huge economic losses. Of course not stated there, but vital is its informal private sector.
As for North Korea, U.S. talks, the latest short-range weapons tests by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un don't seem to be getting U.S. President Donald Trump's attention at all.
And, now that Washington's focus should all be on containing the COVID-19 outbreak there, it looks like North Korea couldn't be futher off on Trump's list.
Do we expect Kim Jong-un to keep trying to get Trump's attention - by upping their weapons test capabilities?
With the U.S. general election coming up in November, and taking into account Trump's ratings in the U.S., the Democrats' North Korea policy and the administration here in South Korea, what's North Korea's foreign policy strategy for this year and next?
Go Myong-hyun, Research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, many thanks as always for your insights this evening. We appreciate it.