A Christian who escaped North Korea twice tells Premier the country is failing to contain coronavirus and that border controls means there is a severe food shortage and rising prices.
Timothy Cho fled North Korea in his twenties when he was denied entry to the army, but was sent back and went to prison and was tortured. He later tried again and was put in prison in Shanghai, where he became a Christian. He was then extradited and now lives in the UK, where he graduated and works with Christian charity Open Doors.
Cho told Premier that the coroanvirus has hit the country badly: "People are dying so easily once they have shown the symptoms because their bodies are so weak to defend, with an ongoing lack of food and nutrition and malnutrition and starvation, and they die all of a sudden, and so quickly.
"North Korea was already presenting with existing issues of ongoing starvation and malnutrition and economic crisis. What's been happening since this virus lockdown [is] they had closed the borders with China. So, it has radically decreased the amount of imported food and medicine, this is the reason why a lot of items' prices have gone up to more than four times and some of these imported food and foodstuff are difficult to find in the market."
With the blackmarket collapsing, and stalls closing down, more people are struggling to surivie as it can cost two months' salary to buy a kilo of rice.
Listen to the full interview with Premier's Michael Fanstone here:
Weather problems have also damaged internal produce. Mudslides and flooding have meant "vast areas of farmland, including rice fields have been wiped out," according to Cho.
The country is denying help from the United Nations because of its priority of secrecy. Cho explained: "North Korea is not willing to let UN representatives have free access to the country in exchange for aid - there are too many human rights abuses that would be exposed. For the same reason, they aren't willing to take any further steps towards nuclear demilitarisation to get international sanctions lifted."
Open Doors is waiting for a window of opportunity to help Christians in the country.
It estimates there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea with between 50,000 and 70,000 in camps which no prisoner leaves alive.
Inmates are tortured, starved and work long hours under dangerous conditions. Sometimes they are used for chemical tests or executed.