North Korea is facing a crisis that could trigger a new famine and bring Kim Jong-un's hermit kingdom to its knees.
The country's trade has suffered during the pandemic, with its citizens pushed into even greater poverty.
Researchers at US credit rating agency Fitch Solutions – which keeps an eye on North Korea’s economy – believe it experienced an 8.5% slump during 2020.
They argue that any hopes of a recovery will be undermined by tough lockdown restrictions and sanctions imposed after nuclear tests, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Anwita Basu, head of Asia at Fitch Solutions, said: “Overall, we do not expect to see a relaxation of international sanctions on North Korea any time soon, as the Biden administration is unwilling to reward Pyongyang without the latter making a tangible gesture in relation to abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.”
Earlier this month, Kim Jong-un said the country faced its “worst-ever situation”.
He urged ruling party officials to wage another “Arduous March” of work and sacrifice.
The term was adopted by officials to rally citizens during a famine that killed as many as 3 million North Koreans after the fall of the Soviet Union.
North Korea has still yet to record a single case of the coronavirus, but officials are sceptical that it has escaped the pandemic.
The country has ended almost all cross-border travel and restricted trade to a trickle in a bid to prevent an outbreak.
In February, a group of Russian diplomats left the country in a hand-pushed rai trolley due to the measures.
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a Facebook post: ”Since the borders have been closed for more than a year and passenger traffic has been stopped, it took a long and difficult journey to get home.”
Last June, a UN human rights expert observed “widespread food shortages and malnutrition” in North Korea.
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Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), urged the U.N. Security Council to “reconsider sanctions” on the isolated country so as to ensure the flow of food supplies.
“There have been reports of an increase of homeless people in large cities – including kotjebi (street children), and medicine prices have reportedly skyrocketed.
"An increasing number of families eat only twice a day, or eat only corn, and some are starving,” he said in a statement.
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