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Can North Korea Cope With the Coronavirus?

Kim Jong Un Faces His Greatest Test Yet

Kim Jong Un attending a military drill, February 2020 Korean Central News Agency / Reuters

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

So far, these measures have kept the number of infections in North Korea at zero, at least if the government’s official figures are to be believed. (Both the South Korean and the

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