Three days before China shut down Wuhan on January 23, North Korea canceled all flights to/from China, and within days after that, suspended tourism, closed its border with China, and quarantined every foreigner and North Korean nationals returning from abroad. Public health officials didn’t wait until they were seeing coronavirus (COVID-19) cases inside North Korea. To put this into context, the next country to impose countrywide travel restrictions was Italy on March 9. Italy locked down its borders six full weeks after North Korea, and thousands of Italians had already died from COVID-19. During an outbreak, delaying a lockdown even by a few days can translate into a massive increase in the number of cases.
It is increasingly clear that imposing countrywide lockdown is the single most effective strategy in preventing the initial surge of COVID-19 as well as “flattening the curve,” which means reducing the peak demand for healthcare services during a pandemic. Many countries may now be wishing they had instituted earlier travel bans and aggressive quarantine measures, a la North Korea.