Omicron overruns North Korea, but the country can hardly defend itself. Alongside Eritrea, it is the only country that has not even started a vaccination campaign. Are the people under ruler Kim Jong Un sliding towards a corona disaster?
For a long time, the North Korean government claimed that their country had been spared the corona pandemic. The turning point last Thursday: North Korea officially admitted infections with Sars-Cov-2 for the first time.
Just days later, the number of cases exploded dramatically. The state news agency KCNA reported 270,000 new cases of fever within 24 hours on Tuesday. There is no official confirmation as to whether those affected are infected with the corona virus because, according to experts, the country has hardly any testing capacities.
According to KCNA, a total of 1.5 million fever cases have been registered in North Korea since the end of April. More than 660,000 people are said to be still receiving treatment, and the number of fever-related deaths has risen to 56, according to KCNA.
In the meantime, ruler Kim Jong Un has mobilized the military for further aid operations. Soldiers distribute medicines around the clock in pharmacies in the capital Pyongyang with almost three million inhabitants, the news agency reported. It is unclear what drugs are available.
In short: The situation in North Korea is dramatic. This is also due to the fact that the country has so far refrained from delivering vaccines via the Covax network, which was co-founded by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has repeatedly emphasized its willingness to help, but says it has not been contacted.
“We are deeply concerned about the risk of further spread of Covid-19 in the country,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently. He pointed out that “the population is unvaccinated and has many underlying diseases that put them at risk of contracting the virus.” subject to serious illness and death”.
According to the WHO, North Korea is the only country besides Eritrea that has not yet started a vaccination campaign against Covid-19.
The UN Human Rights Office also fears that the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown of all cities and counties could have devastating consequences for people. Health facilities are few and essential medicines and equipment are lacking.
The restrictions could make it difficult for people to stock up on essentials. Prison inmates who were already emaciated and had poor medical care ran a great risk of becoming infected because of the cramped conditions.
Also because, according to official bodies, the omicron variant was identified. “If the population has actually been spared virus outbreaks so far, then Omicron would certainly be devastating,” said Friedemann Weber, head of the Institute of Virology at the University of Giessen, in an interview with “Spiegel”.
And Jana Schroeder, chief physician at the Institute for Hospital Hygiene and Microbiology in the North Rhine-Westphalian hospital network Stiftung Mathias-Spital, told the magazine that it was difficult to assess the impact of the outbreak. “The situation we witnessed in Hong Kong some time ago demonstrated how deadly omicron can be when this variant encounters an unvaccinated elderly population.”
And what is ruler Kim Jong Un doing? He criticizes his own officials. At a meeting of the ruling party’s political bureau on Tuesday, he said the “non-positive attitude, negligence and inaction of senior state officials” were contributing to the state’s inability to deal with the crisis, according to state news agency KCNA.
He also announced that he would “awaken the entire party like an active volcano” to combat the spread of the virus. According to state media, his family donated medicines that were distributed in southern Hwanghae Province. Kim wanted to underline his personal commitment to fighting the outbreak.
Nevertheless, it probably takes more than that to get the situation under control. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, appealed to the international community to lift sanctions so that aid supplies could be supplied to North Korea.
Western countries had imposed sanctions on the state, among other things because of North Korea’s nuclear program. Infectiologist Schroeder told the “Spiegel” that it was important that ventilators, medicines and vaccines could be delivered to North Korea. She spoke out in favor of vaccinating the population quickly, “while keeping the incidence of infection small”.
By the way, a look at the North Korean television program shows how badly there is a lack of medical equipment. There is advertising for alleged remedies – among other things, people are said to gargle with salt so that they feel better.