Experts warn that North Korea is in danger of becoming the epicenter of new variants due to the population’s low immunity to the virus.
As the world reopens, North Korea is one of two countries without vaccines
North Korea has maintained until today that it has had no positive cases, although many experts questioned the veracity of that claim. However, the announcement suggests that the circumstances of this outbreak warranted a public confession.
According to North Korean state media, tests were conducted on Sunday on a group of people from an unknown organization in Pyongyang who showed fever symptoms. The results then indicated that they were infected with the BA.2 subvariant.
North Korea was already in a strict pandemic lockdown, banning tourists, diplomats, aid workers and most land trade with China. On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un increased border controls and ordered a lockdown of all cities and provinces. State media called the outbreak “the most serious national emergency”.
NKNews, a Seoul-based website focused on monitoring North Korea, had this week reported that people in Pyongyang had to be shut down after warnings of a “national problem”. Individuals told the outlet there was panic in buying and supply shortages as residents feared a prolonged lockdown in the capital.
In recent weeks, North Korean state media repeatedly warned against taking greater covid precautions over outbreaks along its border with China, urging the public to “strengthen anti-epidemic work in preparation for the extended emergency.”
The Politburo blamed the epidemic sector’s “carelessness, laxity, irresponsibility and incompetence” for the outbreak, according to state media. While Kim has occasionally been open about his regime’s failures and problems, such as admitting the country’s “food crisis,” it is noteworthy that North Korea admits flaws in its anti-virus measures.
On Thursday, Kim warned of further derailments and called for greater vigilance along the border with China. He said the North Korean public had already endured a “prolonged emergency antivirus battle” and would overcome the crisis.
“What is more dangerous to us than the virus is unscientific fear, lack of confidence and willpower,” Kim said, according to state media.
Surviving the ‘Time Machine’: Helping North Korean Defectors to the South
Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul, said this is likely not the first case of coronavirus in North Korea, but it may have given Kim an opportunity to step up his efforts to contain the virus. control – especially given the reports already circulating about Pyongyang’s lockdown.
“I think the main reason the regime is officially recognizing the existence of covid in the country is because it happened in Pyongyang and the regime knows that the world would find out sooner or later,” Go said. “It’s probably more about showing control rather than yelling for help.”
Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected offers of millions of doses from a United Nations-backed global vaccination effort. According to the United Nations, North Korea’s strict border lockdown, which allows only a minimal level of trade with China, has exacerbated the country’s food crisis.
Kee Park, a global health expert at Harvard Medical School who has worked on healthcare projects in North Korea, called on the international community to help North Korea respond to the breach, including with offers of mRNA vaccines and therapies.
“They should reconsider additional measures to protect their populations, including nationwide vaccination programs,” Park said. “It is in everyone’s interest to help North Korea respond to the breach. Nobody wants another variant.”