What is the coronavirus doing to North Korea?

The North Korean military seems to have been stricken by some sort of outbreak. Without notice or explanation, festivities were unexpectedly scrapped for Army Day on Feb. 8. The chief of the military’s general staff appears to have been quarantined for 20 days in February. Military exercises and drills came to a halt for a month.

NK Daily published an article in early March citing a source in the North Korean military who said that some 180 soldiers stationed along the Chinese border had died of Covid-19-like symptoms in January and February; “there were just too many bodies” to cremate, the source claimed. NK Daily has also reported that in early April several doctors died after suffering from “fevers and respiratory pains” at a military hospital in Nampo, a port town near Pyongyang.

Another news story suggests that Covid-19 may have spread to detention centers: 11 inmates in the Chongori prison camp, in the northeast, were said last month to have died after “respiratory pains.” During public lectures in late March, North Korean officials stated that coronavirus cases had been confirmed in Pyongyang and two provinces, according to Radio Free Asia. (The government routinely resorts to such lectures to deliver to the people sensitive information and guidance it wants to keep out of official statements — and away from foreign intelligence services.)