The coronavirus may be attacking the hermit kingdom from within as North Korea angers its foreign rivals with an escalating display of firepower.
In a rare admission this week, North Korea’s state media announced its first COVID-19 cases, including six deaths from the virus, as well as 350,000 new infections since April (though experts say those numbers may be higher than Much higher.)
Its leader, Kim Jong Un, locked down all cities and counties as part of a “maximum emergency” response and was spotted wearing a mask for the first time, after insisting the country was not affected by the global pandemic for more than two years.
North Korea tested three short-range ballistic missiles this week despite the outbreak — a testament to Pyongyang’s commitment to expanding its military arsenal and strengthening its stance toward the West.
Although the country has ramped up its nuclear weapons program, its healthcare system remains under-resourced to handle the influx of patients. According to the World Health Organization, it is one of only two countries that has not yet started a COVID-19 vaccine campaign.
Pyongyang has even rejected aid from a close ally like China, so proposals to share a vaccine from its sworn enemy will almost certainly be futile.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that the U.S. has no plans to provide a vaccine to North Korea, but a spokesperson told ABC News, “We strongly support and encourage U.S. and international aid and health organizations’ efforts to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19.”
The spokesman added that if COVAX — the global initiative the U.S. has pledged to donate more than 1 billion doses of vaccine to by the end of next year — decides to distribute the vaccine to North Korea, the department will support the decision.
However, Pyongyang has yet to accept a shot from COVAX.
“We urge North Korea (North Korea) to cooperate with the international community to promote rapid vaccination of its population,” the spokesman added.
Aside from a vaccine, North Korea is believed to lack sufficient testing capacity and antiviral treatments to treat COVID-19. Its quarantine also means that few of its citizens may have been previously infected and recovered, giving them a degree of immunity.
The capital hosted a massive military parade late last month, which may have contributed to the spread of the virus.
President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to South Korea and Japan next week, his first visit to the region since taking office. North Korea’s nuclear provocation and the additional instability the coronavirus could bring to the country could both be at the top of the agenda.
On Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke by phone with the newly appointed South Korean foreign minister. Both officials condemned North Korea’s latest missile launch, according to State Department information. South Korea’s foreign ministry also said they discussed the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un still clings to military might amid COVID outbreak originally appeared in abcnews.go.com