North Korea’s ’no-mask’ Party Congress raises questions about statistics

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Jan. 6 (UPI) — North Korea could be misreporting the number of COVID-19 tests being conducted nationwide to the World Health Organization, according to a South Korean media report.

News service Dailian reported Wednesday it is unlikely the Party Congress, an event attended by 7,000 people sitting in close proximity in the April 25 House of Culture, took place without testing every individual. The group included politicians representing 9.1 million Korean Workers’ Party members and observers.

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According to statistics from the World Health Organization, a total of 766 people in North Korea were tested from Dec. 3 to 10, 777 people from Dec. 11 to 17, and 787 people from Dec. 18 to 24. It is estimated a total of 2,669 people were tested from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24, a far fewer number of people than at the Party Congress.

The numbers North Korea has submitted to the WHO could be correct, but it is more likely Pyongyang is underreporting the number of people tested, according to Dailian.

State media had claimed Party politicians began to arrive in the capital in “late December,” leaving their hometowns as early as Dec. 20. If tests did take place, they would have been reported to the WHO, according to the report.

North Korea also published images of politicians at the Party Congress not wearing face masks and not practicing social distancing in the indoor space. The regime raised its alert level to the highest of three stages in December, making it unlikely a large gathering could have taken place without tests of all 7,000 participants, according to the South Korean media report.

Choi Jung-hoon, a North Korean defector and professor at Korea University’s Public Policy Research Institute in the South, told Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun the fabrication of statistics is an “open secret” in North Korea. Choi, who worked as a medical doctor in the North, also said he estimates more than 30,000 people in the North were infected with the coronavirus.

The WHO does not have direct access to the North Korean population. The agency reports numbers approved by Pyongyang, according to the United Nations.

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