Home World News “serious emergency” and first official deaths in North Korea

“serious emergency” and first official deaths in North Korea

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High alert in North Korea. The Covid-19 epidemic and its Omicron variant in the People’s and Democratic Republic of Korea claimed the first victim in Pyongyang. This first victim announces, according to several health experts in South Korea, a very rapid spread of the virus, not only in the capital but also in the provinces. “More than 350,000 people presented with fever in a short time, and at least 162,200 of them are completely cureddetailed the official KCNA news agency. On May 12 alone, some 18,000 people had a fever across the country, and currently 187,800 people are in isolation and in treatment.”.

The virus is spreading at high speed throughout the country

Officially spared from the virus until the beginning of the week, North Korea declared its first case on Thursday May 12. If the Omicron variant has been able to sneak into the country since the latter’s semi-opening with China a few weeks ago and various border traffic between the two countries, a South Korean academic explains the speed with which the virus has affected thousands of people.

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For Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, “the huge military parade on April 25, which brought together tens of thousands of participants without masks, played like a superspreader that caused the current explosion”. Speaking to North Korea specialist NKNews, he added that “Pyongyang overestimated its quarantine capabilities by holding such a parade when the Omicron variant had already been raging in China for weeks.”

A humanitarian catastrophe is possible

Diplomats, humanitarians and academics who follow North Korean news agree in fearing that this epidemic, which is hitting this country devoid of solid health infrastructures and vaccination capacities, heralds a possible humanitarian catastrophe. The very fact of recognizing the first cases and a death can in itself be a clue to the scale of a tragedy to come. In an emergency meeting Friday, May 13, leader Kim Jong-un said the pandemic is “a grave emergency and the supreme challenge for the Korean Workers’ Party”.

Humanitarian aid difficult to deliver

Beijing offered its support on Thursday, although Pyongyang has so far not officially requested outside help. “As a friend, neighbor and comrade of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China is ready to do everything to help and support North Korea in fighting the virus.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. China, the world’s only major economy to maintain a “zero Covid” policy, however, is grappling with multiple outbreaks of Omicron, despite strict lockdowns and massive screenings across the country.

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→ ANALYSIS. The WHO is alarmed by the “zero Covid” policy in China

Another difficulty for external humanitarian aid: the health procedures imposed by China but also by North Korea to allow this aid to pass. NKNews revealed on Friday that Unicef ​​had sent massive humanitarian aid to the hermit kingdom in… 2020 and it had just been distributed in the North after a two-year “sanitary transit” in China and North Korea . Aid offered by the South Korean neighbor should also overcome enormous health obstacles. Finally, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had still not received any official message from Pyongyang about the pandemic, but was ready to send vaccines as quickly as possible.

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