U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters on Friday he is “fairly certain” the Chinese coronavirus has spread to North Korea, despite Pyongyang’s official statement claiming it has documented zero cases so far.
The statement by the top U.S. military commander in South Korea preceded news published Monday in local media that North Korean troops just emerged from a 30-day lockdown.
The novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has triggered a global pandemic that hit China and South Korea, North Korea’s neighbors, particularly hard, making many skeptical that Pyongyang has succeeded in preventing any cases of the viral disease within its borders at all.
“What I do know is that their armed forces has been fundamentally on lockdown for about 30 days, and only recently have they started routine training again,” Abrams told Pentagon reporters during a press briefing Friday. “The North Korean Air Force did not fly a single aircraft for 24 days before resuming routine training sorties … [The North] is a closed-off nation so we can’t say emphatically that they have cases, but we’re fairly certain that they do …You’ve seen the public statements by North Korea … They claim that they have no COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] cases.”
South Korean military authorities agree with Abrams’ analysis, citing their own separate assessment of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s movement as evidence that the coronavirus has indeed spread to North Korea.
“Kim Jong-un has been away from Pyongyang for more than two weeks. This seems to have something to do with the coronavirus spread there,” a South Korean government source concluded. Some reports claim Kim Jong-un has fled to Wonsan, a coastal town he has attempted to build into a resort destination, to avoid catching the infection in Pyongyang.
Last week, Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said North Korea may be ready to test a more advanced intercontinental ballistic missile, which would pose a greater threat to the United States.
Referring to two apparent engine tests conducted in December at North Korea’s western satellite launching site, O’Shaughnessy stated, “While Kim did not specify what this new weapon would be, recent engine testing suggests North Korea may be prepared to flight test an even more capable ICBM design that could enhance Kim’s ability to threaten our homeland during a crisis or conflict.”
O’Shaughnessy shared his insights in a written assessment presented to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.