Can North Korea Cope With the Coronavirus?
A version of this op-ed appeared online on March 3, 2020 in Foreign Affairs.
As the coronavirus spreads around the globe, infecting more than 92,000 people and killing at least 3,125 to date, it raises an unsettling question: Will the outbreak spread to North Korea? And if it does, will the famously insular and impoverished state be able to cope?
North Korea is uniquely unprepared for a medical emergency of this magnitude. With a crumbling health-care system that is starved of public investment, it is arguably more vulnerable to a viral outbreak of this kind than any other country in the world. Pyongyang is well aware of this. It has hermetically sealed its borders, suspended all tourism, quarantined all foreign nationals, shut down many public sites, and closed all schools for a month.