The Real-World Impact of a "Zero COVID" Lockdown Policy

With 0 confirmed COVID-19 cases or deaths, North Korea's "extreme lockdown" approach appears to be a success. This neglects the reality of the low life-expectancy rates and a mounting threat of famine, in a country where hospitals lack running water and surgery is performed without anaesthetics.

The Real-World Impact of a "Zero COVID" Lockdown Policy

Given an absence of robust Randomised Control Trial evidence for non-pharmaceutical COVID-19 interventions, individuals often cherrypick countries to use as examples. From India and Portugal to Hong Kong and Germany, these examples of perfection have been systematically destroyed as the pandemic has spread.

However; one country does continue to have 0 COVID-19 cases and deaths. If Sweden is the holiday resort of the lockdown sceptic, this country is paradise for the lockdown fundamentalist. This country is North Korea.

At the start of November, North Korea reported 5,368 "suspected" COVID-19 cases but 0% of the 18,472 COVID-19 tests undertaken in the country have been returned as positive. Accordingly, there are 0 confirmed cases.

Alongside an existing high-voltage electric fence, the border lockdown has been achieved by planting 1 million landmines across the North Korea/China border with dozens of soldiers being blown up in the process of laying them. Measures have also been "beefed-up" along the coastline and the prices of basic commodities has surged. South Korea's National Intelligence Service has claimed the price of items like sugar and other condiments has quadrupled.

Whilst food prices have soared and fears of famine mount, 110,000 tons of rice provided by China as aid is currently sitting idle in the port of Dalian due to fears of importing COVID. As Chinese exports to North Korea plummeted by more than 90% in August and imported products dry-up, observers report that this may simultaneously increase food costs for working class citizens whilst the middle and upper classes become disquiet about the lack of access to imported goods.

North Korea already had tough restrictions on internal movement but has additionally boosted the number of internal border checkpoints. The death penalty has been imposed on at least one North Korean man for violating the harsh COVID-19 restrictions that are in place. Far from being a holiday resort, the extreme lockdown restrictions (such as city-wide lockdown measures) have led to multiple countries closing their embassies and repatriating their staff.

The lack of COVID-19 cases means the country is unable to run Randomised Control Trials to discover COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, leading to the country attempting to hack into British and American research efforts. Kim Jong Un and his family have reportedly taken an experimental Chinese vaccine.

North Korea's COVID-19 experience goes far deeper than some simple moral on lockdown extremism; it speaks to how we measure the pandemic itself. In North Korea, surgery is often performed without anaesthesia, hospitals lack running water and one defector recently reported how hospitals only have a single needle used for all patients.

Dying of COVID-19 is a luxury in a country which has an official life-expectancy that is 12.4 years lower than that in Japan. Excess death rate metrics also ignore the reality of how millions within the country have died from famine in modern history (due to the effect of displaced mortality).

North Korea's brutal COVID-19 lockdown strategy has not only led to many needless deaths, but has caused concern amongst the internal community with seven members of the United Nations Security Council claiming the lockdown measures go too far in degrading fundamental human rights.

With North Korea providing a model of the true impact of a Zero COVID policy, lockdown fundamentalists must be prepared to justify why they think this is a desirable ideal outcome.