Why Did N.Korea Finally Admit COVID Outbreak?

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Min-cheol

    May 13, 2022 14:22

    North Korea in February last year appointed a new ambassador to China, but former ambassador Ji Jae-ryong is still holding the fort because the North sealed its borders when the coronavirus pandemic erupted. North Korea was also the only country not to take part in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year citing the pandemic.

    But on Thursday it finally admitted coronavirus infections inside its borders. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convened a politburo meeting on Thursday, where he was seen wearing a mask for the first time, and declared "the gravest national emergency." Until now, the North has claimed it has zero infections.

    North Korea has taken a different approach to the pandemic from its ally China, which administered its own vaccine to the public. So far, 87 percent of China's population received the second dose. China also has an increasingly hysterical zero-COVID policy, but North Korea not only refused Chinese vaccines but even the WHO-led COVAX Facility. The only other country in the world that has yet to start vaccinating its people is Eritrea, another crackpot dictatorship.

    The official Korean Central News Agency claimed samples taken from patients in Pyongyang with a fever "coincided with the Omicron BA.2 variant." The Omicron variant is less lethal than previous strains, but that applies mainly to vaccinated people and it could still be devastating for malnourished North Koreans with weak immune systems. Moreover, an outbreak could have devastating consequences in a country without any proper medical facilities. The reclusive country has sealed its borders every time there was an epidemic in the world like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus in 2015, and even Ebola in Africa in 2014.

    North Korea's latest announcements is probably a plea for vaccines and medicine. But it only wants mRNA coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which require careful cold-chain handling that is impossible in a country like the North, which suffers from persistent power outages. The only viable option now would be to supply vast amounts of treatment pills. 

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