Correspondent in China
North Korea recognized this Thursday its first official cases of Covid, after more than two years of isolation since the outbreak of the pandemic. Kim Jong-un has reacted by activating “maximum alert” and ordering the nationwide lockdownwhose 25 million inhabitants they have not received any vaccine because of the reticence of the regime.
The leader has also called an emergency meeting of the leadership of the Workers’ Party. During the meeting, Kim promised to overcome “the most serious of crises” and urged the leaders to execute preventive measures with the utmost firmness. “Our most powerful enemy, above the evil virus, is unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will,” he proclaimed in statements offered by the official KCNA news agency.
The young dictator, who has never worn a mask in public, has not made an exception today; unlike the rest of the attendees.
The North Korean authorities have detected the outbreak after carrying out an analysis on Sunday among patients with fever in Pyongyang, the results of which showed the presence of the virus. BA.2 subtype of the Omicron variant, even more contagious than the original. The state media have not revealed the number of active cases, but from their information it is deduced that there are several infected patients.
The identification of this focus is alarming news in a country that until now claimed not to have detected any cases, a statement questioned by international organizations, after drastically closing its borders to goods and people in early 2020. North Korea has also refused to receive vaccines from abroad. The batch sent by Covax remains pending delivery, since the regime has not accepted the conditions of the institution dependent on the World Health Organization.
A combination of factors that could generate a dramatic situation, given the limited health capacity of North Korea and the permanent shortage of food suffered by its population. Last week the authorities already mobilized thousands of workers and office workers to agricultural areas as emergency labor, fearing that an imminent drought intensify the famine, according to the official newspaper ‘Rodong Sinmun’.
Fear of a nuclear test
This need would have led the regime to carry out more weapons tests than ever before, fifteen in the nineteen weeks that have elapsed since 2022, to draw the attention of the international community and force the opening of a diplomatic process with the aim of suspending the sanctions that oppress its economy. For now, North Korea trusts its fate to weapons.
During the nightly parade held at the end of April to mark the anniversary of the founding of the armed forces, Kim threatened the world with nuclear weapons. “not just deterrent” and called for increasing its arsenal “as quickly as possible.” An announcement that has increased the fears of the international community in the face of a new nuclear test, and that the desperation of the regime after the appearance of the virus could make it more likely.
It is difficult, however, to know exactly the seriousness of the situation on the ground in North Korea, as NGOs and international institutions left the country in early 2022 when it cut off all communication with the outside world. The World Food Program estimated that, before the pandemic, 11 million people or more than 40% of the population suffered from malnutrition and required humanitarian assistance. A disaster that is now joined by the pandemic among an unvaccinated population.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism