Seoul, South Korea — Before confirming its first domestic case of COVID-19, North Korea spent 2 1/2 years rejecting vaccines from outsiders and firmly claimed that its superior socialist system was protecting its 26 million people from the “malicious virus” that has killed millions of people around the world die.
Its surprise admission this week has many outsiders wondering just how bad things are, amid growing fears it could spark a major humanitarian crisis in a country with one of the worst public healthcare infrastructures in the world.
Because North Korea has been in a tight lockdown since early 2020, with no reporters, aid workers or diplomats regularly entering, understanding the situation is a bit of a guessing game, and North Korean state media has been vague in its description of the widespread fever. But there are also some worrying facts: no vaccine being reported, very limited testing capacity, a poor healthcare system and widespread poverty.
No immediate outside aid, some experts say North Korea May face enormous mortality and infection rates.But some people say North Korea is using its acknowledgment of the outbreak to unite the public against the virus and tighten control over its people.
Here’s a look at what’s going on in one of the most locked-down countries in the world.
What do you know about the epidemic?
North Korea It was announced Thursday that an unspecified number of people in Pyongyang had tested positive for the omicron variant. It called the outbreak the state’s “worst emergency.”
However, the exact extent was unclear, and North Korean media used vague language.
State media reported on Friday that the “fever” had been spreading “explosive” since late April, killing six people, sickening 350,000 and quarantining 187,800. One of the deceased was diagnosed with the omicron variant, they said.
The cause of the fever has not yet been determined, the report said.
Most people with fever are likely to be virus patients, said Kim Shin-gun, a professor at the Korea University School of Medicine in Seoul.He said North Korea Have a limited number of COVID-19 test kits.
WHO says North Korea Since the start of the pandemic, 64,200 people have been reported to have been tested, an extremely low number compared to other countries. Number of COVID-19 tests South Korea About 172 million.
North KoreaThe outbreak may have been linked to a massive military parade on April 25, in which leader Kim Jong Un spoke about his nuclear weapons in front of tens of thousands of Pyongyang residents and troops. omicron virus may have entered North Korea In January, it reopened rail freight between the two countries, crossing the northern border with China. The border has since been closed.
What are the challenges?
Outbreaks can be devastating because North Koreaof people are largely unvaccinated and suffer from chronic shortages of medicines and medical equipment.
“North Korea There are many vulnerable groups without strong immune systems. It has zero official vaccination rates and no COVID-19 treatment pills,” Professor Kim said.North Korea In the absence of external support, the population size of the epidemic could end with the world’s worst mortality and infection rates.
In many developed countries, omicron has resulted in significantly fewer hospitalizations and deaths than previous coronavirus variants, but this is largely due to vaccination, use of COVID-19 antiviral pills, effective treatment in intensive care units, and exposure to before the virus.None of these apply North Koreasaid Jung Jae-hoon, professor of preventive medicine. South KoreaGachon University.
North KoreaIts secrecy makes it nearly impossible to figure out the true scale of its outbreak and how it will develop.
Ahn Kyung-su, director of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focused on North Korea’s health issues, said many North Koreans have adapted to the troubled medical system and purchased medicines privately. North Korea.
although North Korea Mass infection cannot be avoided, and Ahn said it could avoid a “catastrophic” death toll like the hundreds of thousands of deaths reported during the famine in the mid-1990s.
How does North Korea respond?
Since Thursday, North Korea A nationwide lockdown has been imposed, isolating all work and residential units from each other. But there are signs that the country may be trying to live with the virus in some way.
Kim Jong-un still ordered officials to push ahead with construction, agriculture and other scheduled state projects. The country even test-fired three ballistic missiles on Thursday afternoon, a sign that it will continue its latest string of weapons tests.
Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Unification Research Institute in Seoul, said: North KoreaThe response to the pandemic will be largely to isolate symptomatic people in shelters. He said North Korea did not have the resources to impose an extreme lockdown like China, which has shut down entire cities and confined residents to their homes. It also fears further damage to an already fragile economy.
Ahn said the heightened anti-virus measures were not too different from previous restrictions, and were largely meant to pressure a public tired of prolonged epidemic restrictions to remain vigilant amid a surge in cases in neighboring China.
North Korea Yang Eun-chul, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute, said the heightened pandemic response may be used to tighten control over its people. North Korea If it really wanted to protect against the virus, it would have received previous offers for outside vaccine shipments, Yang said.
What are the prospects for outside help?
Pandemic rekindles hope North Korea Vaccines, COVID-19 treatment tablets, and other medical supplies may be accepted for external shipments.
Other experts say North Korea Given the shortfalls in hospital infrastructure and medical supplies, which will be difficult to overcome without extensive outside help, it may be considered that isolating people with symptoms is the only realistic option North Korea unlikely to be accepted.
Jung said the only meaningful help North Korea A limited supply of vaccines for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions may be allowed because it is too late to vaccinate the entire population of the country.
Hong said North KoreaContinuing to push ahead with its moves to improve economic and military goals despite the outbreak shows the country is willing to accept a level of death to gain immunity through infection, rather than vaccines and other outside help.
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