North Korea has reported this Friday that at least one person has died from covid and 187,800 are isolated due to fever. The news comes a day after the country acknowledged having detected the first coronavirus infection within its borders since the start of the pandemic. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has reacted by activating the “maximum alert” and ordering the confinement of the entire nation, whose 25 million inhabitants are not known to have been vaccinated in one of the most hermetic dictatorships in the world.
North Korean authorities detected the current outbreak after testing fever patients in Pyongyang, the country’s capital, last Sunday. The state news agency KCNA reported this Friday that, since the end of April, more than 350,000 people have had a fever, whose “cause could not be identified.” According to KCNA, currently 187,800 people are in quarantine and 162,000 have recovered. The media adds that, only on the day of May 12, 18,000 cases of fever and six deaths were reported, although they affirm that only one has been due to covid. This death is related to the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, even more contagious than the original.
Kim Jong-un visited the headquarters of the state body dedicated to the prevention of the epidemic on Thursday, where he emphasized the importance of blocking the transmission of covid-19 through the “confinement of areas” and the “isolation and treatment” of people. patients responsibly. During his inspection, Kim criticized the failures in prevention efforts: “The spread of fever cases, with the capital area as the epicenter, shows that there is a vulnerable point in our system.”
Although the origin of the outbreak is unknown, the environment NKNews quotes Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Seong Institute, who believes that the military parade held on April 25 may have been a super contagious event: “North Korea was too sure of its insulation capabilities. It was risky to organize a military parade of that magnitude while the omicron variant was spreading in neighboring China.” Tens of thousands of people participated in that event on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Armed Forces, in which the regime exhibited the missiles with which it threatens its neighbors.
North Korea has been completely closed since February 2020, when China decreed the confinement of Wuhan. It had only partially resumed the line of a freight train that connects it with the Chinese city of Dandong, on the border with the Asian giant, although after detecting a series of cases in that town, operations were suspended again. No one has entered the country in the last two years, except for a couple of defectors who crossed from South Korea and whose tests ended up being negative.
The North Korean leader also presided over an emergency meeting of the leadership of the Workers’ Party on Thursday, the first in which he has been seen wearing a mask. The president urged the health authorities to keep all patients with fever symptoms under observation, to establish treatment protocols and to further strengthen the country’s measures for the supply of medicines: “The greatest challenge and the supreme task to which Our Party is facing is to immediately reverse the situation of this health crisis, restore stability and protect the health and well-being of our people, ”KCNA collects.
Although the leader promised that massive tests will be carried out, health care will be reinforced and disinfection will be enhanced, outside of Pyongyang the country lacks sophisticated medical equipment and hardly any tests have been carried out in these two and a half years of the pandemic. According to the latest report from the World Health Organization, North Korea has only reported 64,207 covid tests carried out among its citizens as of March 31, all of them negative.
The regime has also consistently rejected offers of international assistance from China and the WHO’s COVAX programme. The total lack of immunization and the strict controls that Pyongyang may activate are worrying about the effects they may have on the population. North Korea has acknowledged economic problems caused by closing borders to isolate itself from the pandemic, as well as experiencing food shortages linked to natural disasters, such as droughts and typhoons. Added to all this are the international sanctions against its weapons program that have suffocated the country for years.
The announcement of the first covid-19 outbreak, however, did not prevent the North Korean military from firing three short-range ballistic missiles from Pyongyang on Thursday afternoon, the 16th launch since the beginning of the year. This test also comes at a time when, according to Western analysts, the country is preparing a new nuclear test, the first since 2017 and the seventh in its history.
Experts are also wondering what has motivated North Korea to go public with its health crisis, which comes a week after US President Joe Biden visits South Korea to meet with that nation’s new leader, Yoon Suk-yeol. Seoul and Washington have repeatedly shown their willingness to offer Pyongyang aid packages against covid, including vaccines and medical supplies, assistance that could pave the way and improve the environment to resume dialogue on denuclearization of the peninsula. korean