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The North Korean government announced that it is putting its entire country under a “strict national” lockdown after authorities confirmed the first case of Covid.
Authorities found an outbreak of Covid’s Omicron variant though reports haven’t stated how many people got infected or what specific cities or areas were highly affected.
Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, has assured his fellow citizens that they will eliminate this outbreak. The first time he’s been seen wearing a mask was during his address last Thursday, May 12, which garnered different reactions from audiences.
North Korea has been blocking vaccines from entering the country for over a year now, risking its population of 25 million people to the viral and deadly virus. Many foreign countries offered Astrazeneca and Sinovac shots before, but their government refused them and resorted to nationwide lockdown instead.
Now, the country faces a grim reality challenging the people and their government: how do you counter a viral disease when people are unprepared for it?
North Korea has ordered “maximum emergency” virus controls in response to leader Kim Jong Un’s televised address. The country is also putting into motion other arrangements laid out by the government — prioritizing Pyongyang, the place where the case was first discovered.
Mr. Kim’s order has started a series of government actions responding to his call for “maximum emergency” virus controls. The North Korean authorities are now implementing stricter lockdowns across several areas, according to a South Korean-based monitoring site.
The country’s southern counterpart has also expressed concern regarding the matter. The South Korean government renewed its offer for medical assistance, but Pyongyang has not replied.
Experts have identified several problems in North Korea’s response to the crisis. One is the country’s healthcare system coupled with millions of unvaccinated citizens and limited test kits.
North Korea may also be scaling back its nuclear activities following the development of the coronavirus spread, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University. He explained that this possible decline in nuclear-related activities might be attributed not only because of the urgent threat involving Covid but also due to an economic one where they need massive resources to counter the spread.
Despite this, North Korea reportedly fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan only hours after Kim Jong-Un announced the outbreak. The activity garnered several reactions from experts wondering if this is part of their ongoing nuclear negotiations with other countries.
In a similar position as Easley, professor Yong Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said North Korea could lessen its nuclear activities to thwart the outbreak. Although it is possible that when things go downhill, and there would be widespread fear in the country should the health crisis escalate, Mr. Kim may restart tests “to divert this fear to another place.”
The North Korean government has tried to downplay reports of Covid-19 spread last year, but reports say otherwise. In June, officials were punished because of a Covid-related offense.
In September of the same year, soldiers wore face masks and hazmat suits.
To backtrack, North Korea was one of the few countries that immediately closed its borders after Covid started. Last January 2020, Mr. Kim ordered a nationwide lockdown. While this presented solution to stop Covid from spreading locally, it meant no more products could come into North Korean land leading to food shortages and economic problems.
For now, the North Korean government is equipping all its authorities to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.