North Korea’s latest announcement highlights its vulnerability to the highly contagious BA.2 omicron subfactor, which has been responsible for the virus’ severe mutations in South Korea, the United States and elsewhere. vaccinated very effective in preventing serious infections and death from omicron, but North Korea is one of only two countries without a vaccine program. The other is Eritrea.
Nearly 190,000 people are still in quarantine, North Korea’s Central News Agency said Friday, while 162,000 have recovered from more than 350,000 who showed symptoms of fever. The agency said that one of the six people who died had tested positive for the virus Bachelor’s degree 2.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who ordered the country’s lockdown after the first official case of the coronavirus was announced on Thursday, was quoted by the Korean Central News Agency as saying that the spread of the infection was “a serious sign of loopholes in our epidemic control system.” The authoritarian leader appeared in public wearing a mask for the first time on Thursday.
For more than two years, with the epidemic spreading across the world, North Korea has maintained that it is free of infection. But experts say the virus was likely spreading in the country before Pyongyang’s official announcement this week.
North Korea’s “zero COVID” policy has included strict quarantine measures and closed borders over the past two years, leading to health and food crises, according to a report by a panel of experts convened by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. .
It has drastically reduced overland trade along its border with China, its largest trading partner, limiting the availability of food, supplies, and money. North Korea has also banned diplomats, tourists and humanitarian aid groups from entering the country.
“Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unvaccinated, there is hardly any medicine left in the country, and the health infrastructure is unable to handle this epidemic,” said Lina Yun, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Pyongyang has also repeatedly rejected Seoul’s offers of assistance. North Korean spokeswoman Kang In Son said South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol on Friday announced plans to provide vaccine and medical aid to North Korea. Yoon’s office said North Korea had not asked for help, adding that it would seek to consult with North Korea on how to hand it over.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Thursday said It is ready “to do everything in its power to provide support and assistance to the DPRK in fighting the virus,” although it is unclear whether North Korea will accept help along the border due to its concerns about the virus being transmitted via shipments from China.
Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said the omicron variable would cause “chaos” in North Korea for up to a year.
“Currently, North Korea is not expected to accept coronavirus aid from abroad, especially from the Western world,” he said.
Cheung said that despite the outbreak, North Korea is unlikely to abandon its plans to test missiles and nuclear weapons, which could be used to raise public morale amid a health crisis.
On Thursday, North Korea, hours after announcing the first outbreak of the coronavirus, fired three short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast, according to the South Korean military.
Seoul’s National Security Bureau criticized the tests in a statement Thursday, saying that North Korea “turned a blind eye to the lives and safety of its people and continued its ballistic missile provocations” despite the rapid spread of the virus.
Michelle Yi Hee Lee in Tokyo contributed to this report.