A NEW CLUSTER of Covid-19 cases has been reported in Wuhan. The five cases are the first non-imported ones since April 3. This would appear to be evidence that as lockdown restrictions are lifted, a rise in infections is likely. Worryingly, the latest cases were all previously classified as asymptomatic.
Separately, Shulan city in Jilin province, near the borders with Russia and North Korea, has reported 11 new cases. Neighbouring Heilongjiang has also seen a spike in the number of imported cases, but this is mainly accountable for by Chinese citizens travelling back from Russia. Nonetheless, North Korea’s economy relies on illicit trade back and forth across the Yalu and Tumen rivers that separate it from China. Such back channels of potential infection will concern Beijing, now desperately trying to ensure the primacy of its global narrative about its victory over the pandemic.
Officially, there have been no reported cases from North Korea. However, air quality assessments suggest that there has been a significant increase in cremations, implying the country has not escaped the global pandemic. Supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s three-week disappearance from public view may have been a period of self-isolation. Such a judgement is speculative, given how little is known externally about what is going on inside the hermit kingdom.
China sent a three-person team of senior officials to Pyongyang a couple of weeks back, presumably to assess the situation and Kim’s health. President Xi Jinping has lately expressed concern about the situation in North Korea, offering help in response to a message that he received from Kim congratulating him on China’s handling of the outbreak.
There is a lot of signalling in that message about the primacy of Beijing for Pyongyang. Equally, China does not want the coronavirus to destabilise the Kim dynasty, an outcome that would be worse than the disease.