North Korea has continued to deny that coronavirus has entered its borders, despite reports that hundreds of soldiers in the hermit state were struck down by the virus

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is pictured during the coronavirus outbreak (Image: via REUTERS)

    North Korean health chiefs risk being purged by Kim Jong-un after reports emerged claiming the coronavirus has killed around 180 soldiers.

    The dictator warned a summit of senior party officials late last month that there would be “serious consequences” if Covid-19 was able to enter the country.

    North Korea is still officially denying that the virus has hit the hermit kingdom, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

    Reports from South Korea claim roughly 180 North Korean soldiers have succumbed to the virus.

    And some fear the secretive regime will blame a scapegoat.

    A source in the North’s military revealed the 180 deaths to South Korea’s Daily NK newspaper and said that most occurred close to the border with China.

    A further 3,700 soldiers were under quarantine, they added.

    The regime continues to deny that the virus has any presence within its borders.

    A woman wears a face mask at Pyongyang International Airport as North Korea denies an outbreak
    (Image: Yevgeny Agoshkov/TASS)

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    In its report, Daily NK added that the wave of deaths had led to corpses being disinfected rather than cremated, in defiance of government orders.

    “There’s just too many bodies,” their source said.

    “The military leadership likely believes that suddenly asking the hospitals to cremate all the bodies would create a big headache for medical staff.”

    The source added that army chiefs would “be held responsible for the deaths that have occurred in their units”.

    Foreign embassy employees leave Pyongyang
    (Image: Yevgeny Agoshkov/TASS)

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    Two party cadres, Ri Man Gon and Pak Thae Dok, have already been “harshly criticised” by Kim Jong-un after he revealed “abuse of power” and “corruption” among senior officials.

    A party committee has also been dissolved and now faces a “relevant penalty”.

    The regime is so concerned by the virus that it allegedly won’t even allow North Korean defectors captured in China to be repatriated so they can be punished.

    Regime forces have also threatened to shoot Chinese citizens who come too close to the border, according to three sources.

    Recent North Korean propaganda has heavily emphasised efforts to stop the virus, featuring images of officials in protective clothing disinfecting buses, barbershops, schools and other public places.

    A leading US infectious diseases expert says North Korea’s dependence on China has made it difficult to stop the virus crossing the border, which was closed in January.

    Songyo Knitwear Factory in Pyongyang produces masks for protection against the virus
    (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

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    “I think closing the border will reduce the likelihood of entry but won’t reduce it to zero,” said William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University.

    “These respiratory viruses are very clever,” he continued. “They can get past most [North Korean] safeguards eventually because there’s so much of it in China.”

    The tightly-controlled kingdom does 95 percent of its foreign trade with China, according to figures cited by North Korea watchdog, 38 North, in February.

    Closing the border has led to skyrocketing prices within the secretive state, according to Daily NK, with the cost of fuel surging by 30%, sugar by 35% and rice by 50%.

    Dr Schaffner, a former president of America’s National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said pressure on North Koreans amid the outbreak could have lead to unauthorised border crossings and further infection.

    Foreign embassies employees Pyongyang International Airport as they are permitted to leave North Korea
    (Image: Yevgeny Agoshkov/TASS)

    “There are always people who manage to evade the restrictions,” he said.

    “People are very clever and here people are actually driven by a need to do this.

    “That will offer opportunities for the virus to be acquired in China and then brought over and spread further once people get into North Korea again.”

    After being forced into isolation, a group of foreign diplomats was this week allowed to leave the country, arriving at the Russian port of Vladivostok on Monday.

    British ambassador, Colin Crooks, tweeted: “Sad to say farewell this morning to colleagues from German Embassy and French Office which are closing temporarily. British Embassy remains open.”



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