SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says the nation is facing “two crises at the same time” – fighting the spread of coronavirus and dealing with extensive flood damage. But Mr. Kim has ordered his country not to accept any international aid for fear that outside aid could bring Covid-19, state news media reported Friday.
Mr. Speaking at a meeting of the ruling Labor Party’s Politburo on Thursday, Kim said he sympathized with the “great pain” of families who had lost their homes to the floods and lived in temporary shelters.
The two-whammy accidents caused by the pandemic and floods have exacerbated Mr. Kim’s financial problems. The Nordic economy, already hampered by the sanctions imposed by the United Nations for its nuclear weapons development, has gone into a tailspin this year as fears of coronavirus infections cut deep in its exports and imports with China, the country’s primary trading partner.
An unusually long monsoon season as well as heavy rainfall this month has triggered floods and landslides in both North and South Korea. But the Nordics said the natural disaster had destroyed 96,300 acres of farmland and 16,680 houses as well as roads, dams and railway lines. Most of the damage was reported in southern and western provinces, a breadbasket to North Korea that has suffered chronic food shortages even in normal years.
North Korea has also taken drastic action against the coronavirus, sealed its borders in late January and quarantined all diplomats in Pyongyang for a month. It locked the border town of Kaesong last month, suspecting a defector crossing back across the border from South Korea to carry the virus.
North Korea’s swift action was driven by fears that a Covid-19 outbreak could seriously test its sadly underdeveloped public health system and its economy, which is already struggling under international sanctions, analysts said.
On Friday, however, North Korea lifted the closure, “based on the scientific verification and guarantee from a professional anti-epidemic organization.”
The North Korean state news media have long insisted that there are no coronavirus cases in the country, although external experts question the claim. The Nordics did not reveal whether the defector, who was crossing back from South Korea, had tested positive for the virus, and officials in the South have said there is no evidence that he had it.
The global pandemic and insidious flood damage comes as Kim has not had United Nations sanctions lifted through his halted diplomatic ties with President Trump.
By excluding outside help, Kim seemed to have denied Seoul and Washington a chance to thaw relations with the North through humanitarian shipments.
“North Korea’s rejection of flood relief is apparently to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 to the country,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul. “But humanitarian aid is heavily politicized by the Kim regime, as it does not want to show weakness to the domestic population or international rivals.”
North Korea is closing its deal with neighboring China, which accounts for nine-tenths of its foreign trade, and identified smugglers holding the booming unofficial markets in operation. The country’s exports to China, hit hard by the border closure, fell to $ 27 million in the first half of this year, down 75 percent from a year ago, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. Imports from China fell 67 percent to $ 380 million.
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Updated August 12, 2020
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- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal plan in the fall, requiring online learning, provisional childcare, and astonishing workdays to be painted. California’s two largest public school districts – Los Angeles and San Diego – said on July 13 that teaching will only be remote in the fall, citing concerns that undulating coronavirus infections in their areas pose a risk to students and teachers. . Together, the two districts register approx. 825,000 students. They are so far the largest in the country to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution is not an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the country’s largest, New York City, develop hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There is no national policy on this yet, so check back regularly with your municipal school system to see what is happening in your community.
About 60 percent of North Korea’s population is facing food security this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
Floods and fears of coronavirus have also complicated Mr. Kim’s plan to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ruling Labor Party on October 10 with pomp and show.
“We can not get the flood-hit people to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the homeless party,” Kim said during the Politburo meeting, urging her government to bring people’s lives back to normal as soon as possible.
The Nordic leader has visited the areas affected by the floods in recent weeks, sometimes photographed driving his own car and has ordered the release of spare grain to the hard-hit cities in an apparent effort to demonstrate what the state news media has called his ” popular-loving ”leadership.
During the Politburo meeting, Mr. Kim premieres Kim Jae-ryong, who was in charge of the cabinet and the economy, with Kim Tok-hun, a senior Labor official. The outgoing Prime Minister was given a senior post in the party.
Mr. Kim also raised Ri Pyong-chol, an official responsible for North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development, to the top management committee of the Politburo, along with the new prime minister.