North Korea during the height of the pandemic in the world
The first reports of infection with pneumonia of unknown origin, which later turned out to be caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, appeared in China on 31 December 2019.
However, the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has until recently denied the entry of coronavirus infection into the country and has even rejected vaccines offered by China and Russia.
But since the end of January 2020, North Korea has banned the entry of foreigners and the exit of its own citizens, while also restricting the import of goods. The government conducted a population survey for COVID-19, but the tests were negative, according to official reports.
According to the WHO’s weekly report, published on May 11, 2022 and containing the incidence data for the period of May 2-8, not a single case of coronavirus was recorded in the country, and in general, in the reports of the last months, it was noted that there was no infection in DPRK patients.
The Johns Hopkins University map showed that 1 case of infection was detected in the country during the pandemic period. Nor has the Worldometers portal published any information about the spread of the coronavirus in North Korea.
Officially, the country’s authorities confirmed the first case of infection only on May 12, 2022 – according to their data, the Omicron strain was found in the patient. Prior to that, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un described COVID-19 as a fever of unknown origin and said that since the end of April, about 500,000 people have been infected with the virus. Against the backdrop of an increase in the number of cases in the DPRK, the head of state described the disease as the “biggest shock” in the country’s history and called for tougher quarantine measures at the border and at home, according to the official news agency KCNA. Republic.
The number of cases with high fever now exceeds 1.2 million, but the coronavirus continues to be collectively referred to as fever due to the state’s lack of equipment to confirm the presence of an infection. In the last 24 hours alone, the number of patients suffering from symptoms of the disease has increased by almost 400,000.
Similar dynamics have been observed recently in the United States, where the number of new cases ranged from 400,000 to 1.2 million per day from late December 2021 to early February 2022, according to WHO. At the beginning of 2022, an unprecedented number of new COVID-19 patients were registered in France and Germany, as well as South Korea and China. The number of cases increased in other European countries as well.
Sudden outbreak or pattern
The closed nature of the country and the epidemiological situation, virologist, doctor of medical sciences, Professor Anatoly Altshtein told Gazeta.ru.
“It is not worth believing that the virus is now emerging in North Korea: during the pandemic, the state was not monitored. Nowadays, without a doubt, the residents began to get sick with the most contagious “omicron”, which led to the epidemic that we have seen. There was no point in the authorities hiding it, “he said.
However, in his opinion, it is not worth rejecting the assumption that the virus has not really spread in the DPRK until now – after all, the epidemic did not develop simultaneously in all states.
Altstein suggests that such a sharp increase in incidence may be due to the type of “omycron” entering the country.
Doctor of Biological Sciences, virologist Alexei Agranovsky explained that it is not easy for virus carriers to enter the country. Those entering North Korea were isolated to prevent the circulation of pathogens. This can confirm that the epidemic in the DPRK was provoked precisely by the penetration of the “omicron” type.
“Since herd immunity in the DPRK is almost non-existent (no one got sick, no vaccinations), the virus entering the population could lead to a serious epidemic,” the scientist said.
“No Danger to Earth”
Agranovsky is confident that he will determine the duration of the epidemic in North Korea by the course of vaccination.
“It is unlikely that Pfizer or Moderna drugs will be used in the DPRK – most likely under current conditions, residents will be vaccinated with Chinese-made whole virion vaccines, but they are ineffective. “The best option would be to import and use the Russian Sputnik V,” he said.
Virologist Anatoly Altshtein considers that the situation in the country is not dangerous for the world: the peak of incidence will pass in about a month or so. Moreover, he believes that by September, the coronavirus itself will not be found in appreciable amounts anywhere in the world. It will remain in the population, but the decline in the number of cases in all states will continue, albeit slowly.
Talking about the possibility of a new type of covid appearing on North Korean soil, Altstein acknowledged such a possibility, although he emphasized that it was relatively small. Aleksey Agranovsky agreed with him.
North Korea could have prevented the spread of COVID-19 for a long time, and only now faces a problem, according to Candidate of Historical Sciences Konstantin Asmolov, Principal Investigator of the Center for Korean Studies at the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“When it comes to such serious infectious diseases, it is necessary to consider the number of serious patients, not the number of cases in general, they are the ones that put the most strain on the country’s health system. It is unclear how many people have been hospitalized in North Korea and how many are on ventilators.
But I want to draw attention to the fact that the authorities are honest with the world. As soon as cases of coronavirus appeared on the territory of the state, they said about it.
Although, given the closed nature of the country, they may well conceal such statistics. But here the way of conducting statistics is also important. “You have to understand whether the DPRK covers anyone among patients with symptoms similar to those of covid,” Asmolov said.
He added that distributors of anti-Pyongyang propaganda periodically say that the government is hiding the covid, citing anonymous sources in their materials who claim that villages are dying from the consequences of the disease and that the death of soldiers in military units is averted. without drugs. As the historian stresses, none of these reports have been confirmed, and none of the anti-Pyongyang publications wrote about the outbreak before DPRK officials announced it.
However, the expert said that the situation with COVID-19 in the DPRK is serious, so the country should take new measures to ensure stability. He acknowledges that the authorities, who had previously refused humanitarian aid, explaining this by the absence of confirmed cases of the virus, will change their policy and agree to accept medical supplies and equipment from other states, including Russia, China and South Korea.
Asmolov explained the lack of early cases of infection and death in North Korea, with the country preventing the penetration of serious coronavirus and death-causing strains thanks to the closure of borders in 2020 and serious anti-epidemiological work.
“It only encountered the more contagious, but less dangerous for the population, omycron. Therefore, it is wrong to talk about North Korea’s ignoring the epidemic and the “reward” in the form of a jump in the event, ”says the historian.