After years of struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries have ended their lockdowns and are slowly getting back to normal. But in North Korea The story is different.
After two years of not reporting a single case of Covid, Pyongyang reported on May 16 that more than one million people had contracted what the state press called a “fever”.
Actual numbers may be much higher than official figures, as the government of the country of 25 million people is known to be secretive. In addition North Korea It has limited testing capacity.
See in this report the causes of problems North Korea
The World Health Organization says that high levels of transmission and a lack of vaccines, as in North Korea, create greater risks than variables
So far, at least 56 people have died, but it is not known how many suspected cases have tested positive for the virus.
The North Korea Only last week the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus were announced, although experts believe the virus has likely been circulating for some time.
“The spread of this evil epidemic is the biggest disturbance that has occurred in our country since its founding,” the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was quoted by the Korean Central News Agency as saying.
As a result, his government imposed “extreme emergency” control at the national level. The North Korea It is indeed the most isolated country on the planet.
Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), expressed concern on Tuesday (17/5) about the “potential impact on human rights” of the confinement imposed by the authorities.
Three questions help to understand how North Korea I got to the point.
People watch a television screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a train station in Seoul, South Korea. – Photo: Ahn Young-joon/AP
1. Refusal of international aid
The North Korea She refused to help the international community to supply the country with vaccines, believing that it could only keep the virus under control with the border closures imposed in January 2020.
Shortages of medicine and personal protective equipment in North Korea – Image: Getty Images / BBC
Alistair Coleman, BBC Expert North KoreaHe says that the reasons for the North’s refusal to offer doses of vaccines from abroad are not clear.
“Some sources believe that they are waiting for more effective mRNA vaccines, rather than immunizing the population with less effective injections,” he explains.
“Another line of thinking is that foreign vaccine supplies come with conditions that are unacceptable to Pyongyang.”
For Key Park, professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard University, there are other reasons. First, the traditional North Korean philosophical theory known as “juchi” emphasizes self-reliance.
“Seeking help is not easy for them,” the professor explains in an interview with BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish service.
In addition, he explains that since the beginning of the epidemic, the entry of humanitarian goods into South Korea It has been reduced because authorities see the entry of outside goods and people as a potential route of entry for the virus.
North Korea has rejected offers from the international community to provide the country with vaccines – Image: Getty Images / Via BBC
“With the virus already inside the country, they will have to re-evaluate the risks and benefits of foreign aid,” Park adds.
In recent days, a group of planes from the North Korean airline, North Korean Air, has made several flights to China, after being grounded for more than two years.
“These trips may suggest a layout change North Korea to accept air freight,” says the specialist.
According to him, this could have significant implications if they finally decide to accept help from other international organizations.
2. Inadequate health system
Currently , North Korea It lacks the ability to test its residents, which is leading to an even greater shortage of essential medicines and equipment to deal with the coronavirus.
Professor K Park says that South Korea It is a low-income country with a limited healthcare system.
“Despite the relatively high density of healthcare workers, the system will struggle to deal with the increase in patients,” he says.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – Photo: Environmental Protection Agency / via BBC
Alistair Coleman, specialist in North Koreaexplains that Pyongyang’s response to COVID has always been to deny the presence of the virus in the country.
“The state’s response was to close its borders and implement a hygiene strategy to prevent infection, spraying public places such as train stations, schools, hospitals, etc.”
But the country could not be less prepared to combat the disease.
Jeon Paik, founder of Lumen, a non-governmental organization that monitors North Korea.
“It’s a very bad system. Outside of the two million people who live in Pyongyang, most of the country has very poor quality health care.”
people who fled from North Korea They have claimed in the past that injection needles are reused until they rust and that beer bottles are being turned into makeshift containers for salt.
In addition to the unvaccinated population, there is a shortage of medicines and personal protective equipment.
And testing is very limited, with only 64,000 tests conducted since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from the World Health Organization.
In comparison, the South Korea It has conducted 172 million tests so far.
3. Low collective immunity
As a result of Pyongyang’s refusal to help the international community vaccinate the population, the country’s herd immunity is extremely low.
Despite rumors that some elite of North Korea They were vaccinated, and the vast majority of North Koreans have not received any doses against the coronavirus.
Indeed, during the pandemic, state media have warned about the ineffectiveness and dangers of vaccines against the virus.
With no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past two years, the population is “immunologically fragile against SARS-CoV-2” and all of its variants, Harvard professor K Park says.
“So far they haven’t had any outbreaks, so no one has developed immunity. They also still need to vaccinate the population. They basically don’t have immune protection,” he adds.
On Monday, the World Health Organization expressed its “concern” about the situation in the country North KoreaThe omicron variant appears to have already affected nearly 1.5 million people in the Asian country since late April.
“As the country has not yet started vaccination against Covid-19, there is a risk that the virus will spread rapidly unless it is reduced with immediate and appropriate measures,” WHO Regional Director Khetrapal Singh warned in a statement.
Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted that in the absence of a vaccination campaign, the spread of the epidemic “could have a devastating impact on the human rights situation in the country”.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Throssell called on North Korean authorities to discuss with the United Nations the opening of channels for humanitarian support, including medicines, vaccines, equipment and other life-saving support.
“We also urge the authorities to facilitate the return of international and UN officials to help provide support, including for vulnerable populations and those living in rural and border areas.”
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