Why the detection of thousands of COVID cases in North Korea is a potential catastrophe for the Kim Jong-un dictatorship

North Korea on Friday announced its first confirmed death from covid-19 by a "explosive" outbreak of the coronavirus that expanded nationwide and has 187,000 people "isolated and treated" for fever.
North Korea announced its first confirmed COVID-19 death on Friday from an “explosive” outbreak of the coronavirus that has spread nationwide and has 187,000 people “isolated and treated” for fever.

Yes ok North Korea has between 30 and 40 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants.level similar to France or its neighbor to the south, and has successfully deployed vaccination campaigns with coverage of more than 90% of the population for polio or diphtheria andat least until a decade ago, surpassed South Korea in beds per inhabitant, it is the lack of equipment and medicines what is most worrying.

The lean years of the 1990s and early 2000s have hit North Korea hard, depleting health supplies in the provinces, and adding to that the effect international sanctions have on getting parts to repair equipment or the months in which imports from China have been suspended due to the pandemic.

“The UN and the international community must urgently donate humanitarian aid including medicines to treat covid symptoms, antivirals, as well as vaccines and the necessary infrastructure for cold chains; from trucks to fuel for transportation and to generate electricity,” Lina Yoon, researcher for North Korea at Human Rights Watch (HRW), tells Efe.

North Korea has rejected almost five million AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines offered by COVAX, apparently due to the regime’s refusal to allow personnel to advise on cold chains to enter the country. Another possibility advocated by some experts is that North Korea, which has made self-sufficiency its maxim, He does not want to depend on anyone or show the people that he is incapable of solving this situation on his own.

Although it has not publicized it in a big way, the regime said last year that it was developing its own vaccine without offering further details since then. Media outlets with contacts inside the country affirm that North Korean scientists are trying to apply a sort of “reverse engineering” vaccine samples obtained in China and Russia, while different laboratories have reported attacks by North Korean hackers.

North Korea on Thursday acknowledged its first outbreak of covid-19 since the start of the pandemic and declared a "serious national emergency" before which leader Kim Jong Un ordered confinements throughout the country.
North Korea on Thursday acknowledged its first COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, declaring a “major national emergency” as leader Kim Jong Un ordered nationwide lockdowns.

Many wonder how the virus came to the country after implementing a system for more than two years that prevented anyone from entering -not even North Koreans- from abroad, double the border fences or give orders to shoot whoever approaches the divide, whether from the North Korean side or from China, Russia or South Korea. The absence of NGOs and observers on the ground make it impossible to know to what extent these measures have affected illegal cross-border tradea basic part of the economy in the north of the country, but it is very possible that some merchandise trafficker was the origin of the spread of omicron.

Another plausible option is that people asymptomatic who has participated in the permitted trade routes with China (rail and high seas) is transmitted the contagious variant despite the strictness of the system of entry of imported goodswhich involves disinfecting the products and storing them for weeks or month-long quarantines for sailors before they can disembark.

In any case, it is worrying that in the face of the current outbreaks, the regime, which has urged confine each “city and county”, further tighten a prevention system that is already tremendously strict and the economic consequences that it may have for a country that depends on its purchases from China.

The omicron detection in North Korea comes at a terrible time for two reasons, starting with May-June is the main rice planting window, a vital campaign for the country’s pantry that implies, as Yoon recalls, the mobilization of everyone over 14 years of age in the fields for a month, which may be affected by the confinements. The country is also in full “borigogae” (“the slope of the barley”), Spring period of greatest scarcity since the crops harvested in autumn and winter are already finishing and it is still early to harvest barley or wheat.

A large-scale confinement can also greatly damage the already battered economy of the North Koreans, many of whom depend on self-employment activities as they do not receive food aid from the State, and to this context we must add the fact that this is the third year of pandemic lockdown “and people may have already spent their savings”, Yoon adds

A health worker disinfects an office in North Korea, following the country's first confirmed COVID cases.  (AP)
A health worker disinfects an office in North Korea, following the country’s first confirmed COVID cases. (AP)

The regime says the outbreaks started in mid-April but waited until now to report it – just a week before US President Joe Biden visits South Korea – it is giving analysts pause. Many point to possible political motivations at a time when the regime is also carrying out a record number of weapons tests and preparing a new nuclear test.

The ultimate objective, however, seems more difficult to elucidate, especially with regard to accepting or not -after more than two years rejecting shipments- humanitarian aid that is more necessary than ever and that the international community is willing to export.

On the one hand, accepting this help can, in addition to saving many lives and the economy, creating a favorable climate to resume dialogue with Washingtonthough on the other Having a way out for the pandemic that comes from outside means for the regime to admit its failure to the public and put an end to a border closure that has served Kim Jong-un to reinforce the physical and ideological coercion of the population.

With information from EFE


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