Has anyone in North Korea had Covid-19? Will North Korea be getting a vaccine? How has Open Doors been able to help North Korean believers during the pandemic? Here, Timothy, a North Korean escapee whose name we've changed to protect his identity, answers these and other questions…
The North Korean authorities claim there haven’t been any infections in the country, but that is unlikely. Tens of thousands of people have been quarantined – there are 24 quarantine facilities and many people have been quarantined at home.
North Korea has taken similar steps to other countries. Schools and markets were closed, before being reopened last summer. Those who don’t have symptoms are now going to work but must wear masks. Some big events have been cancelled, such as the Pyongyang marathon, but other big events, including the Workers Party Congress, have gone ahead.
"North Korean escapee arrivals in South Korea reached its lowest rate for 20 years in 2020" 'Timothy'
One of the strongest changes North Korea has made to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is to completely shut down the border with China. This has decreased imports and exports radically, as well as making it difficult for smugglers to bring in supplies or information. The regime ordered soldiers to shoot immediately if anyone crosses the border during lockdown, which has made it difficult for those trying to escape the country. North Korean escapee arrivals in South Korea reached its lowest rate for 20 years in 2020.
Very badly. Closing the border has significantly reduced the amount of food and basic items coming from outside the country. This means that the little food available inside the country has become much more expensive – sometimes the price has quadrupled.
Many families can’t afford to feed themselves because of this, and millions of people are starving. The UN estimates that 40 per cent of the total population need urgent food aid. Farmers may be able to sustain themselves with their last grains until the spring, but then follows ‘Borigogae’ (the period between food harvested from autumn running out and the first harvested grains from spring).
They have received some support, such as donations of PPE from international NGOs. But it is far from what millions of North Korean people urgently need – food and medicines. The PPE and other medical kits that have arrived have so far been given to the elites and their families.
You can see a doctor for free, but you must pay for your medication. The elite members of society can get good treatment and medications immediately, but ordinary people usually must go to the market to get medicines that have been smuggled from China. They are very expensive for ordinary citizens. The doctor may also suggest trying a herbal medicine for a cure.
North Korea has applied to be a part of the COVAX distribution programme, where donations from richer countries are helping to provide vaccines for poorer countries. They have been allocated nearly two million doses initially, but North Korea has a population of over 25 million people – they will need a lot more.
Despite the incredible challenges believers in North Korea have met in the last year – facing sickness and starvation on top of persecution – they have held on to their faith.
"We would like to express our great gratitude towards all of you who care for us" 'Timothy'
One believer has written from inside the country, saying, “We have been through many challenges this year. None of the challenges would stop our solemn march to the spiritual mountaintop. We remember the great consideration from all the brothers and sisters around the world. We have dedicated our lives again to the ministry of the underground church and to the succession of the precious faith of our ancestors. We would like to express our great gratitude towards all of you who care for us, and we pray that God’s grace and blessings will be poured upon you.”
Their work in the darkness is obedience and faith in God, despite being unable to predict what the future will bring.
By the grace of God, Open Doors has been able to continue providing relief aid to North Korean believers, such as food and medicines, through our networks in China – although it was even more difficult than usual in 2020. Our safehouses in China have continued to provide help to the few people who have managed to escape North Korea in the last year.
Open Doors radio broadcasts into North Korea have also been able to continue, giving great comfort to believers as well as information about the outside world. They find peace and encouragement from these programmes. This echoes my experience when I was in North Korea – I desperately waited for a specific foreign radio programme which usually aired from China early in the morning when everyone was in bed.
"There is a big cross that shines, pushing away the darkness..." 'Timothy'
None of this would be possible without your support and prayers.
Please share the stories of our North Korean brothers and sisters with your families, friends, churches, colleagues, and on social media. We need to create a very loud conversation about what is happening to them so they aren’t forgotten.
And please pray. I see a picture of a cloud of our prayers, wrapping up the whole of North Korea, and in the middle, there is a big cross that shines, pushing away the darkness.
Please use the three prayer points below to guide you in your prayers for your persecuted family in North Korea.
Find out more about what it's like to be a Christian in North Korea, and the other countries in the top 50 of the latest World Watch List, by ordering a free copy of our Top 50 booklet. This also features testimonies from the persecued church and articles on the key trends to emerge from the latest report.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.