North Korea reports first covid deaths amid ‘explosive’ outbreak

Placeholder while loading article actions

SEOUL — North Korea has announced an “explosive” coronavirus outbreak, with six dead and 350,000 infected across the country since April, a day after the country admitted covid-19 had finally hit it.

State media has called the outbreak a “public health crisis,” though its scale remains unclear. North Korea is also one of two countries that has not administered vaccines for the coronavirus, raising concerns among experts that it could become an epicenter of new variants.

North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Friday nearly 190,000 people remained in quarantine, while 162,000 of the more than 350,000 people infected have recovered. The agency said one of the six people who died had tested positive for the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who ordered a nationwide lockdown after the country’s first official coronavirus infection was announced on Thursday, was quoted by KCNA as admitting the spread of infections was a “sign serious failure of our anti-epidemic system”. The authoritarian leader appeared in public wearing a face mask for the first time on Thursday.

For more than two years, as the pandemic raged around the world, North Korea had maintained that it was free of infections. But experts say the virus was likely spreading in the country long before Pyongyang’s official announcement this week.

North Korea’s ‘zero covid’ policy has led it to maintain strict quarantine measures and a closed border for the past two years, leading to secondary health and food crises, according to a report from a panel convened by the Washington-based Center for Strategic. and international studies.

“Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unvaccinated, there is almost no medicine left in the country, and the health infrastructure is unable to cope with this pandemic,” said researcher Lina Yoon. Korean senior at Human Rights Watch.

Pyongyang has also repeatedly rebuffed offers of vaccines and other medical aid from Seoul. Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s appointed unification minister, said on Thursday the ministry was ready to “actively pursue” aid to North Korea because the omicron variant may aggravate the humanitarian crisis there.

Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korean analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said the omicron variant would cause “chaos” in North Korea for up to a year. “At this time, however, North Korea should not accept coronavirus help from outside, especially the Western world,” he said.

Despite the virus outbreak, North Korea is unlikely to back down on its plans to test missiles and nuclear weapons, which can be used to boost public morale during a health crisis, Cheong said.

On Thursday, hours after declaring its first coronavirus outbreak, North Korea 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 North Korea had “turned a blind eye to the lives and safety of its people and continued ballistic missile provocations” despite the rapid spread of the virus. virus.

Leave a Comment