Does "so" mean "the state of being never healthy"? (So the phrase "it was made less so" means "North Korea was made worse (than the "never healthy")"?
As natural disasters strike, North Korea cuts itself off
The extent of the damage may never be known
North korean dictators are not given to self-deprecation. Indeed, they seldom admit to being anything less than godlike, and lock up those who suggest otherwise. Yet in mid-August Kim Jong Un told a meeting of the Workers’ Party that, owing to multiple “unexpected difficulties”, his government had recently failed to improve the lives of the people and meet its economic goals. To remedy the situation, the report in the party newspaper went on, a party congress would be convened in January to adopt a new five-year plan.
Most economies have been hobbled by covid-19, but few are doing as badly as North Korea’s. Never healthy, it was made less so by international sanctions
intended to stop Mr Kim’s nuclear-weapons programme. Floods, brought on by the wettest rainy season in years, have devastated crops. And to ward off the pandemic, the regime has imposed one of the world’s strictest quarantines.
Source: The Economist