North Korea grappling with ‘economic losses’ in fight against coronavirus

A child has her temperature taken as foreign diplomats and embassy staff prepare to board a flight to Vladivostok at Pyongyang International Airport on March 9, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 11 March 2020

North Korea grappling with ‘economic losses’ in fight against coronavirus

  • Pyongyang has already closed its borders with China and Russia, and toughened its quarantine procedures to disrupt the movement of people and import of goods

SEOUL: North Korea’s efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus have come at the cost of severe economic damage, a North Korean media outlet said on Tuesday.
“North Korea is taking a series of strong anti-coronavirus measures even at the cost of enormous economic losses for the lives and safety of its people,” Urimizokkiri, a North Korean propaganda website, reported.
It is the first time that Pyongyang has talked openly about its economic problems amid the global spread of the deadly virus, even though the regime has yet to acknowledge a confirmed case in the country.
“It is not something that can be easily decided and implemented by anybody to take the ultra-strong preventive efforts to block the spread of COVID-19,” the website said. “It is because there is no task more important than ensuring the lives and safety of people.”
Nonetheless, speculation is rife that Pyongyang has concealed the spread of the deadly disease.
On Monday, a South Korean news site reported that around 180 North Korean soldiers had died from the disease in the past two months, with another 3,700 in quarantine.
“I haven’t heard of corpses being cremated in military hospitals,” an unidentified North Korean source was quoted by the Daily NK based in Seoul as saying. “The military leadership likely believes that suddenly asking the hospitals to cremate all the bodies would create a big headache for the medical staff.”
North Korean authorities have ordered military hospitals to disinfect quarantined areas with methanol, where sick soldiers are being hospitalized on a daily basis, the source added.
Pyongyang has already closed its borders with China and Russia, and toughened its quarantine procedures to disrupt the movement of people and import of goods.
However, such disruptions could hurt an already frail economy which is under heavy strain from crippling international sanctions.
“I guess COVID-19 would have a large impact on North Korea, and the regime appears to be certainly impatient,” Park Won-kon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said, referring to the latest missile test-launches being conducted by the North over the past few weeks.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, a major Japanese daily, reported recently that North Korea had asked South Korea to send surgical face masks, but the request was turned down as South Korea is suffering from a shortage.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry denied the report as “groundless.”
Amid a public outcry over a lack of face masks, President Moon Jae-in’s administration announced a series of plans to control the supply of masks. The government had also announced a full ban on the exports of masks and decided to limit weekly sales in local pharmacies to two per customer.

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”