Seoul, May 12 (EFE) .- North Korea today announced its first cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and declared the “maximum emergency”, a situation that worries about how contagious the detected omicron variant has proven to be and the fact that the isolated country has not administered a single vaccine and does not yet have an inoculation plan.
The KCNA agency reported “a gap” in the epidemic prevention system that the country “has firmly defended for two years and three months since February 2020.”
The authorities detected that samples taken on May 8 from people with fever “belonging to an organization in the capital” match the BA.2 omicron variant, which has spread throughout the world since the end of 2021.
The North Korean media did not offer more specific details or mention possible routes of infection.
The regime, which until now had not confirmed a single positive for Covid, has made the announcement after specialized media such as NK News stated, citing local sources, that on May 10 it had been suddenly decreed a lockdown in Pyongyang.
For its part, the South Korean Ministry of Unification explained in a letter sent to Efe that its position involves cooperating “on a humanitarian level at all times” in health matters with the North and its residents.
Given the concern generated by the situation in the impoverished country, the North Korean army responded today with an apparent gesture of force by launching three missiles into the Sea of Japan (called the East Sea in the two Koreas), described as ballistic and short-range. for the South, in the third test of this type in the last week and the sixteenth so far in 2022.
KIM JONG-UN WITH MASK
The politburo of the North Korean Workers’ Party held a meeting today chaired by leader Kim Jong-un – who appeared wearing a mask and only removed it when speaking, as seen on television – to activate a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system “
Kim “urged all cities and counties across the country to fully lock down their areas” to prevent further infection.
The leader stressed the need for the health system to carry out intensive tests, reinforce observation and medical treatment and intensify disinfection, for which he said that medical supplies “reserved until now for an emergency situation” will be mobilized.
North Korea has maintained a very strict system since 2020 that includes preventing anyone from entering the country, reinforce border fences, shoot anyone who approaches the divide or disinfect for weeks the imports it gets from China by sea or rail.
In fact, the freight trains that circulate between China and North Korea and that for much of 2020 and 2021 were stopped by order of Pyongyang have recently been put on hold again due to the increase in cases in the neighboring country.
Amidst all that paraphernalia, the regime originally reported a case of COVID-19 in July 2020 in a North Korean defector who had returned to his home country from South Korea, though it eventually told the World Health Organization (WHO) that the test results were “inconclusive”.
REFUSAL TO VACCINES
The regime has refused to accept two shipments of the vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca and Sinovac by the COVAX mechanism and is, along with Eritrea, the only country that has not reported a single inoculation to the WHO.
This seems to be due to the regime’s refusal to allow foreign personnel to enter the country to help prepare the cold chains necessary to distribute and store vaccines, a requirement of COVAX to deliver the almost 5 million doses that Pyongyang ended up refusing.
Some experts believe that North Korea was able to reject them in turn so that the country, which makes self-sufficiency its maxim, does not depend on any external actor.
Also, that the vaccine it is trying to develop comes either from “reverse engineering” carried out on samples obtained from China and Russia or from information harvested in computer attacks on laboratories.
The lack of immunization and the strict controls that the regime may activate are worrying about the effects they may have on the North Korean population at a health, psychological, economic and food level.
LACK OF LOGISTICS
The politburo said today that “the inconveniences and the suffering that people would suffer under a forceful closure situation” should be minimized, but the message raises questions about how contagious omicron is and the cost that a strategy like “Covid zero” would have. China in a country without logistical resources for such a plan.
It should also be remembered that North Korea, which has just opened its main annual rice planting window, has admitted to being food shortages during the pandemic linked to -in addition to the border closure- due to the droughts and typhoons it has suffered.
In turn, the shortage of intensive care units or medical equipment coupled with a testing capacity that seems scarce (up to March Pyongyang tested only 64,207 people, 0.5% of its population) They could cause a health catastrophe if the virus spreads freely.
Andres Sanchez Braun
(c) EFE Agency