North Korea Claims It Is Developing Coronavirus Vaccine

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un listens to US President Donald Trump (not pictured) during a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The communist dictatorship of North Korea claimed this weekend that it had started developing a vaccine against the Chinese coronavirus despite its deteriorated healthcare system and its claim to have documented no coronavirus cases nationwide.

North Korea now joins a host of rogue states — including China, Russia, and Iran — claiming to be developing vaccines against the virus, currently fueling a pandemic that has affected millions. Cuba’s Communist Party also claims to have developed a “miracle” cure for coronavirus infection, but doctors have decried the solution as potentially deadlier than the virus itself.

North Korea’s State Commission of Science and Technology announced the development of the vaccine on Saturday, according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, at the nation’s Academy of Medical Science. The commission reportedly offered few details on how North Korea is developing a vaccine or the timeline for the expected testing and distribution of the product. Asahi quoted the commission as saying, “the vaccine utilizes an enzyme being used when the coronavirus enters the cells of a (human) host.” Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, reported that the commission’s claim that clinical trials of the vaccine had already begun.

North Korea’s communist regime insists that it had documented zero cases of coronavirus in the country and, as it is an extremely repressive and secretive country, concrete estimates of its claims’ validity have been difficult to organize. The country borders China, Russia, and South Korea, all of which have experienced severe outbreaks. The Chinese coronavirus originated in the central city of Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

Chosun Ilbo claimed, citing South Korean government sources, that the true toll of the pandemic on North Korea is at least 500 deaths and an untold number of cases. These known deaths likely occurred in Pyongyang, the capital and home to most of the nation’s elite. Outside of Pyongyang, Radio Free Asia (RFA) cited sources within the country saying in June that dictator Kim Jong-un had ordered the third-largest city in the country, Chongjin, locked down entirely to stop the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. As with all unfavorable news, North Korean officials have not addressed the report.

The pandemic may also be severely affecting the nation’s labor camps. Under North Korea’s songbun caste system, North Korean citizens are divided by loyalty to the Kim family; those deemed insufficiently loyal are banned from Pyongyang entirely and dissidents who express disapproval of the government publicly are executed or sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor. These labor camps are often torture centers where prisoners are offered minimal food and hygiene, making them ideal locations for the rapid and severe spread of a viral outbreak.

Kim Jong-un has repeatedly expressed significant concern about the pandemic in remarks published by state propaganda outlets. In early July, Kim ordered his Workers’ Party (WPK) on “maximum alert without a slight self-complacence or relaxation” over the pandemic.

“He [Kim] repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis, stressing that all the sectors and units should further strengthen the emergency anti-epidemic work till the danger of pandemic incoming is completely rid of,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the nation’s top propaganda outlet, reported.

In March, at the peak of the outbreak in Wuhan, Kim ordered the construction of the first new healthcare facility in the country in years — the future Pyongyang General Hospital. North Korean officials insisted they had identified no cases of Chinese coronavirus in the country nor were they experiencing an abnormal public health situation, but Kim demanded that the hospital’s construction be complete by October, as soon as possible.

On Monday, KCNA published a report of Kim’s inspection of the construction site that concluded that the workers on the ground were performing magnificently, but Party officials tasked with budgeting for the hospital’s construction had been “careless” and abusive with locals.

“After hearing a detailed report on the overall situation of the construction from the construction coordination commission on the spot, he pointed out serious problems in economic organization for the construction,” KCNA noted. “He said that the construction coordination commission is organizing economy in a careless manner with no budget for the construction properly set up, yet.”

Particularly upsetting to Kim, KCNA claimed, was the fact that Pyongyang officials were demanding that local citizens offer funding for the hospital instead of finding the money in the government budget.

North Korea’s regime is notoriously impoverished, a result of its heavy investment in an illegal nuclear weapons program, which it regularly uses to threaten the destruction of South Korea and the United States. Following its last nuclear test in September 2017, the administration of President Donald Trump convinced the United Nations Security Council to pass strict sanctions on Pyongyang, preventing it from generating funds to build and detonate a new bomb.

The North Korean coronavirus vaccine joins the alleged medical achievements of several other similarly governed nations. In March, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that operates as a wing of the Iranian military, announced it would begin developing a vaccine. The IRGC has no known medical subsidiary and it has yet to announce any progress on the vaccine, though it has touted a magnetic coronavirus “detector” that experts have compared to similarly designed fraudulent inventions Tehran has debuted in the past.

The Communist Party of China has promised to develop a vaccine faster than anyone on earth and offer it to all nations for free. Dictator Xi Jinping made the vow during the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of World Health Organization (W.H.O.) member nations, in May. Since then, reports have surfaced that Beijing is injecting People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers with an experimental vaccine; its effectiveness is not yet clear.

The Russian government also claims to be working on a vaccine. Its claims have been undermined by reports that it has deployed hackers to steal American vaccine research, a claim Moscow denies.

Multiple pharmaceutical companies in the free world also claim to be developing vaccines. This weekend, the head of America’s National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, said that he expects that America will have a vaccine by the end of the year.

Researchers around the world have never developed a successful vaccine for any known coronavirus.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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