North Korea is imprisoning its coronavirus victims in "quarantine camps" where they are left to starve and die, according to Seoul-based nonprofit organization Helping Hands Korea.

It says North Korea is hiding a dirty secret - the forced imprisonment of infected residents in "quarantine camps."

However, North Korea says it remains unaffected by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, according to official statements.

"One of the more alarming pieces of information that has come our way is that the North Korea government is providing absolutely minimal or no food or medicine to those who are interred there," the organization said.

The activist group claims families of patients are allowed to approach the edges of camps to bring food to their relatives. But those without family are left to starve.

Families are forced to buy medicine and local remedies from black markets - or jangmadang - to give to their relatives in the camps.

Sources familiar with the situation say many camp inmates have died - but not from the virus. They died from starvation and other causes. Survivors claimed authorities provided patients with "absolutely minimum" amounts of food.

David Lee, a pastor who works with defectors, said survivors who have escaped into South Korea said homes where residents were infected were boarded up. This resulted in occupants dying from starvation and exposure.

Separate sources in North Korea said the country was ill-equipped to tackle the virus - locally referred to as the "ghost disease." The country reportedly has no access to testing kits and citizens in remote areas are often left alone and without care.

In October North Korea leader Kim Jong-un said he was relieved no one in the country had contracted the virus. He repeatedly says North Korea citizens are healthy and unaffected by the disease.