SEOUL - The top U.S. general in South Korea said he does not accept North Korea’s claim that it has no coronavirus cases.
“I can tell you that is an impossible claim based on all of the intel that we have seen,” General Robert Abrams told VOA and the U.S.-based cable news network CNN in a wide-ranging joint interview Thursday.
North Korea has repeatedly insisted it remains virus-free, even as the disease ravages countries around the world.
"We’re not going to reveal our sources and methods. (But) that is untrue. How many, I couldn’t tell you," Abrams said.
North Korea closed its borders in late January, just after the coronavirus emerged in neighboring China. But completely sealing the border with China would be almost impossible, since North Korea’s economy relies on both formal and informal trade with China.
Abrams said North Korea’s military was also “locked down” for about 30 days in February and early March. “They took draconian measures at their border crossings and inside their formations to do exactly what everybody else is doing, which is to stop the spread,” he said.
A major outbreak could lead to a humanitarian disaster in North Korea, which lacks proper medical supplies and infrastructure.
North Korea itself has called coronavirus prevention a matter of “national survival" and implemented strict quarantine measures. Its state media have portrayed the efforts as one hundred percent successful and instead highlight sprawling death tolls in other countries.
With the world’s focus on the coronavirus, North Korea also has been testing an unprecedented number of missiles. Last month, the country test-fired eight short-range ballistic missiles, a record high for the country.
“All they do is cause increased tension,” Abrams said of the tests, which he said were part of a four- or five-year plan by North Korea to develop solid fuel missile capability with increased accuracy. “If they perfect it, then bringing these types of systems online into a fully operational, capable status only serves to increase the threat to the Republic of Korea and other countries around the region.”
North Korea is banned from any ballistic missile activity under United Nations Security Council resolutions. But U.S. President Donald Trump says he is not concerned about North Korea’s short-range tests.