North Korea was one of the first countries to react after the first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in January 2020. It further sealed its hermetic borders and further isolated itself from the rest of the world. It cut off all contact and trade with its largest and virtually only trading partner, China. Also with its other ally, Russia. Months went by and this country with 25 million inhabitants was still officially free of Covid. It was difficult for the virus to sneak through a door that never opened.
Pyongyang long ago put the issue of the pandemic in the background to resume Kim Jong-un’s missile games. Up to 15 tests launching rockets into the sea have been carried out by the regime so far this year. Never before have I made so many pitches in such a short amount of time. And analysts have been advocating for days that the main course is still missing: a nuclear test.
But an unexpected incident has changed Kim’s priorities: his country has just announced the first case of coronavirus more than two years after the start of the pandemic. This was announced by the state news agency KCNA. The omicron variant has managed to sneak across the borders of the most isolated country in the world. The positive was detected on May 8 in Pyongyang.
For now, the information that has transpired is that the North Korean leader has ordered an even more severe national closure. This above all will affect the small commercial reopenings in recent months with neighboring China, the only economic lifeline that the impoverished country has to avoid a great famine that is looming ever stronger.
According to the KCNA agency, the Politburo of the Workers’ Party “admitted” that there has been a “gap” in North Korea’s quarantine front against Covid-19 maintained for the past two years and approved a resolution for the transition to a “maximum emergency” anti-epidemic system.
Experts in the Asian country have been warning about the devastating damage that Covid could cause in North Korea since the beginning of the pandemic. Except in Pyongyang and the city of Hamhung, it hardly has any hospitals or ambulances.
According to the Global Health Security Index published by Johns Hopkins University (United States), the Asian country is among the worst nations in the world in terms of preparedness for a disease outbreak. The authoritarian regime knows this and for this reason a massive blockade was ordered very quickly, sacrificing the exports that enter through China, which represents 90% of all its commercial exchange.
Pyongyang was left without importing food, fuel, fertilizer or textiles. Not even vaccinations. From COVAX, the platform created by the WHO to guarantee equitable access to vaccines for the poorest countries, they said last year that they had assigned 8.1 million doses to North Korea, enough to vaccinate more than 15% of its population. The serums were shipped, but it was never known whether the containers carrying them were unloaded at North Korean ports. It is believed that none of the vaccines that arrived have yet been administered among the population.
Earlier this year, due to food shortages and the deepest economic recession since 1997, which was beginning to resemble the “Hard March”, a term used to refer to the struggle during the great famine of the 1990s, the leader Kim ordered a temporary reopening of some rail services with China to receive supplies. However, last week the news was that cross-border trade had been suspended again due to the new outbreaks that are hitting the neighboring country.
After the news of the first positive for Covid in North Korea, some experts point out that the only place through which it has been able to sneak into a supposedly virgin land for the virus has been through China.
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