Corona chaos in North Korea – from patient 0 to 350,000 in 24 hours – overseas policy

Kim’s nightmare comes true: Corona hits her country!

No cases of Covid-19 have been reported for two years, but now North Korea has officially acknowledged one death in the country after contracting the virus for the first time.

Six people have died since late April – with a fever that, for still unclear reasons, has spread explosively across the country, Kim Jong-un’s propaganda media reported on Friday. People are encouraged to rinse their mouths with salt water and drink milk.

“More than 350,000 people had a fever in a short time,” he says. The omicron BA.2 subvariant was reportedly detected in one of the fatalities.

Only the day before, the isolated country had officially confirmed infections with the pathogen for the first time since the start of the corona pandemic more than two years ago.

“When Kim Jong-un personally admits a corona outbreak to the public, it becomes clear that this is a serious situation for North Korea, as the country already has a disastrous health care system and has no testing and vaccination capacity. Economically, too, the country is on the ground because of the sanctions and the self-imposed corona isolation,” Korean expert Hartmut Koschyk tells BILD.


Pyongyang: Teacher measures student's body temperatureFoto: Cha Song Ho/dpa

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Pyongyang: Teacher measures student’s body temperaturePhoto: Cha Song Ho / dpa

“Massive Eruption”

South Korea now assumes a “massive outbreak of Covid-19” in the neighboring country. The Seoul government offered its support. President Yoon Suk-yeol wants to deliver vaccines against the disease to North Korea, his office in Seoul said.

A corresponding offer must be sent via the Unification Ministry. North Korea itself has yet to ask for help, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a government official as saying.

According to North Korean reports, more than 162,000 people had fully recovered from the sudden onset of fever. However, nearly 188,000 quarantined patients are said to still be treated. However, it was initially unknown how many were actually infected with the corona virus.


A grocery store is being disinfectedFoto: Jon Chol Jin/dpa

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A grocery store is being disinfectedPhoto: Jon Chol Jin/dpa

“The most serious emergency in the state”

According to observers, the figures indicate the potential extent of the corona epidemic in the country. Experts had long warned that North Korea would struggle to cope with a major outbreak due to its inadequate healthcare system. North Korea itself has spoken of “the most serious state emergency”.

“What doesn’t fit the picture is that North Korea has just resumed missile testing and is deploying its ‘military muscle’. At his inauguration this week, South Korea’s new president made it clear that ‘He was willing to engage in dialogue and support North Korea, but pushed for the complete denuclearization of the country,’ explains Koschyk.

State media reported that Corona has now spread across the country. Dictator Kim Jong-un learned about it during a visit to the Pyongyang epidemic prevention center, he added.

“There were various offers of vaccines from outside, but North Korea rejected them all. The import of two million doses under the WHO Covax campaign failed due to the requirement for transparency – who gets vaccinated and who does not – and logistics, for example because of cooling options. And in addition, foreigners should have been allowed to enter the country,” says Dr. Christian Taaks of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Seoul on BILD.


Corona pandemic hits a country that can't even counter testing capabilitiesFoto: Cha Song Ho/dpa

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The corona pandemic hits a country that doesn’t even have testing capabilitiesPhoto: Cha Song Ho / dpa

Kim has it all locked down

Kim had ordered a nationwide lockdown on Thursday. All cities and counties must be strictly locked down. How people are cared for during a curfew was seen as unclear.

According to UN organizations, a large part of the population of the country, which has nearly 26 million inhabitants, is undernourished or malnourished.

“It is to be feared that the already problematic supply of a large part of the population will become even more difficult. The impact on the economy is likely to be drastic. Further developments are hardly predictable, but the highest alert level is definitely in place now,” says Taaks.


Was most likely a high-profile event: Kim's military parade two weeks agoFoto: KCNA/via REUTERS

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Was most likely a high-profile event: Kim’s military parade two weeks agoPhoto: KCNA/via REUTERS

During a visit to the national epidemic prevention center, the dictator complained that there was a “vulnerable point” in the existing emergency prevention system, state media reported.

Kim reportedly said that each work and production facility as well as all living units should be isolated from each other. He said he was confident that the competent authorities would be able to “eliminate the sources of the spread of the malicious epidemic”.


There's money for that: the heaviest weapons - but not for basic medical careFoto: KCNA/via REUTERS

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There is money for the heaviest weapons – but not for basic medical carePhoto: KCNA/via REUTERS

Big rockets, but no medical infrastructure for the population: “Practically everything is missing and we now have to develop and implement strategies that other countries have taken more than two years to develop. There is not even a testing capacity that would provide information on the number of infections, let alone an adequate number of hospital beds, medical devices and drugs,” says Taaks.

The communist leadership had closed the national borders very early because of the pandemic. On Thursday, North Korea was one of the few countries that did not report any cases of infection to the World Health Organization. Abroad, North Korea’s claims that it was corona-free have been questioned. The virus is believed to have entered the country via neighboring China and black market activities.


North Korea Map/Factsheet - Infographic

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