North Korea’s Coronavirus Response: Adding Face Masks to People in Photos

North Korean state media has for weeks now been publishing doctored images of people wearing surgical masks to give the impression that the country is effectively responding to the coronavirus outbreak, according to NK News. NK News reports that since mid-February, all state media has depicted people in public places wearing surgical masks to help prevent the spread of the disease. In most cases, it is blatantly obvious that the masks have been digitally added to the image. The images have appeared in newspapers including the party daily Rodong Sinmun, the cabinet newspaper Minju Choson, and the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), with the counterfeit nature of the image very easily detectable. State media has long attempted to alter images to fit their desired narrative, including fake photos of the country’s military capabilities or the disappearance of dictator Kim Jong-un at a recent weapons test. North Korea is currently experiencing a shortage of surgical masks and has already reached out to South Korea and international charities for help in getting hold of them. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday that despite offering help to their neighbor through unofficial channels, Seoul has turned down the request due to their own shortages in the South. The reports were dismissed by Unification spokesman Yeo Sang-gi, who described their claims as unfounded. “Basically, the government needs inter-Korean cooperation in quarantine efforts,” he said. “But let me make it clear once again that as of now, there has been neither a request for support from the North nor any specific program.” The spread of coronavirus in North Korea is believed to be fairly serious, and state media has aggressively sought to present an image of a committed, dramatic response to the outbreak, despite the fact that the regime has refused to confirm a single official case. According to sources from inside the country, hundreds of people have already died as a result. No concrete numbers exist of coronavirus cases; the official number is zero. Some measures implemented by Pyongyang include a ban on all foreign tourists, the suspension practically all cross-border traffic with China where the virus originated, increasing observation at entry points, and mobilizing health workers to monitor residents and isolate those suspected of carrying it. Last month, authorities took the unusual step of canceling two major annual festivals in Pyongyang celebrating the birthday of late dictator Kim Jong-il over fears it would bring about further contagion. Concern over North Korea’s ability to handle the outbreak is shared by the World Health Organization, whose chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesusr recently warned that an epidemic is particularly dangerous in somewhere like North Korea because of the dire state of the country’s healthcare system. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month.

North Korea is a disaster on oh so many levels.  It’ll be interesting to see how this coronavirus thing will play out there.  At least China, on SOME level is starting to come clean with how it is there.  Their struggle is balancing actually addressing the problem against the Asian culture of saving face and not admitting problems because its embarrassing.  With the DPRK (i.e. N . Korea), its ALL about saving face, no matter what….hence the the doctored photos, etc.

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