For the first time, North Korea says it is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. More than two years after the appearance of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus, the regime led by Kim Jong-un announced on Friday May 13 the first death officially attributed to the disease. According to the state news agency, “a fever whose cause could not be identified spread explosively throughout the country from the end of April”. This situation worries the local authorities, but also the World Health Organization (WHO), which says ready to support [le pays] in its battle against the Covid-19″.

Officially, 187,800 people are currently infected

Kim Jong-un’s visit to the headquarters for the fight against the Covid-19 epidemic was an opportunity for the regime to communicate some figures on the progression of the coronavirus. Thus, the official press agency KCNA* reported that over the month of April, 350,000 people had contracted a suspicious fever, and that at least 162,000 had it “completely cured”. The agency did not specify the health status of the other cases detected in April.

The regime’s press organ, however, said that 18,000 new infections had been recorded in North Korea on May 12 alone, bringing the provisional toll to 187,800 active cases. All these patients are “isolated and cared for”, assures the KCNA agency, which adds that six people have so far died of Covid-19 in North Korea, including one positive case for the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant.

The country has an unknown vaccination rate, but surely close to zero

These figures make international health authorities fear the worst, who suspect that none of the 25.7 million North Korean citizens have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Over the past two years, the country has indeed refused the many outstretched hands of countries such as China or Russia, which offered to provide it with millions of doses of their vaccines free of charge, recalls France 24. To justify its choice, Pyongyang repeated that the Covid-19 pandemic had not arrived on its soil.

In a statement* published Thursday evening, the WHO said it had contacted the North Korean government to strengthen its emergency plan against this epidemic outbreak. While awaiting a response from Pyongyang, the organization is working and hopes to see the start of a vaccination effort. “WHO assisted the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to develop a vaccination plan against Covid-19”explained to the American magazine Newsweek* Ewin Salvador, the organization’s representative in North Korea, adding that the country remains eligible for the Covax vaccine redistribution program.

Kim Jong-un decreed strict confinement

To stem the epidemic outbreak, the supreme head of the North Korean republic has chosen a national containment, and this, at several levels. Thus, the regime seeks to “lockdown every province, county and city across the country” but also to “isolate places of work, production and places of life”, details the official agency KCNA*.

Kim Jong-un also revealed that Pyongyang, the capital, was the epicenter of the epidemic in North Korea. “We will always be on the defensive”, warned the North Korean autocrat, even if his country managed to curb the spread of the virus. North Korea, which is frequently plagued by food shortages, also suffers from one of the worst health systems in the world, ranked 193rd out of 195 countries, according to a Johns-Hopkins University survey released in 2021.

* Links marked with an asterisk refer to articles in English.

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