COVID-19 reaches North Korea and threatens humanitarian emergencies

Southampton, May 18: The World Health Organization declared a COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. However, it was only recently in May 2022 that secrecy North Korea reported the first confirmed case of the virus.

It may seem a little surprising that the country entered a pandemic without a pandemic, but North Korea has closed its borders since January 2020, with no movement inside or outside the country. It is reported that. Therefore, it is plausible that they did not have a COVID so far.

But now, with a population of about 26 million, the country appears to be facing the outbreak of a very large and rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

As of May 17, 1.4 million cases of “fever” have been reported, with 56 deaths since late April. The country is treating fever as a sign of COVID infection due to reported shortages of testing supplies. India has reported 1,829 fresh coronavirus cases and 33 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Of course, we do not know for sure how many of these cases of fever are COVID. This can theoretically lead to an overestimation of the number of cases. At the same time, some of the cases are likely to be asymptomatic, and the lack of reports coupled with limited surveillance means that they may be underreported. In any case, these numbers may not be accurate.

Several tests were performed to identify an unspecified number of Omicron cases. But in the end, there is a big gap in our knowledge of this outbreak. This includes the proband – the case that caused this outbreak.

North Korea is not equipped for COVID outbreaks

The COVID pandemic highlighted the need for national and global presentation of high-quality real-time data and the need for rigorous, large-scale test infrastructure to support monitoring and medical decision-making. .. North Korea does not seem to do that.

Importantly, North Korea does not have a known COVID vaccination program, but aimed to provide fair access to the COVID vaccine, despite previous supplies from China and COVAX. It is a global initiative. The government previously refused to receive 3 million Sinovac doses from China in addition to shipping the AstraZeneca vaccine. The latter has been reported to be due to concerns about side effects.

Currently, South Korea has offered to donate a dose of the vaccine, but North Korea has not yet accepted it. To some extent, North Korea is in the same position as the rest of the world was in the early to mid-2020s.

The government ordered the blockade of the country. This has socio-economic implications for the population, but overall, perhaps a wise move, given that the population has little immunity to the virus, whether it is a previous infection or a safer vaccination route. is.

Kim Jong-un also ordered the military to distribute medicines and supplies, but criticized authorities and the public health sector for inadequate response to the pandemic. North Korea’s health system has been reported to be vulnerable, especially away from the capital Pyongyang.

In some areas, outbreaks can easily overwhelm medical facilities. This has a knock-on effect on other areas of healthcare, further limiting access to care for non-communicable diseases, for example. The blockade will buy the country for at least some time to implement other public health measures such as vaccination campaigns.

North Korea is believed to have a lower prevalence of some conditions known to increase the risk of severe COVID, such as obesity, compared to many other Asia-Pacific countries. However, more than 10 million people in North Korea are believed to be food insecurity (unless access to adequately safe and nutritious food is guaranteed). And we know that malnutrition increases the risk of serious illness due to COVID.

Another factor that increases risk is aging. An estimated 10% of North Korea’s population is over 65 years old, and about 19% are between 50 and 64 years old. Therefore, many people are susceptible to serious illness if they are infected with COVID.

How do things develop?

New variants of concern may emerge from this outbreak, but may not be easily exported due to lack of contact with other parts of the world.

There were several humanitarian catastrophes associated with the outbreak of COVID out of control. Perhaps most prominent is India, where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, could have died in just a few months. Due to such a large out-of-control outbreak, the true death toll can only be estimated. COVID-19: Nearly 13.2 million children in the United States are infected with the coronavirus, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

The situation in North Korea threatens a similar humanitarian catastrophe. We know that the number of infections can grow very rapidly, especially since Omicron is even more infectious than previous variants.

Routine datasets such as death records and certificates of cause of death are limited and can be of poor quality. Public reports may not exist, and if monitoring data becomes available, the accuracy of the findings should be considered very carefully.

The outbreak of this COVID can put a high burden of illness on North Korea and put great pressure on the health system. Whether or not public reports of health results indicate complete fallout, the population will undoubtedly suffer great suffering.

Extensive COVID vaccination, especially for the elderly and vulnerable, is urgently needed. Now is a very good time for North Korea to overcome normal external suspicions and accept international aid offers.

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