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Sight Magazine – Essay: North Korea

For most of the COVID pandemic, North Korea has taken a different approach to the rest of the world. While other countries have locked down and restricted international travel, the North Korean government has taken its own measures to to protect yourselfnotably by denying the existence of the virus, refusing vaccine donations and restricting information to its citizens.

At the start of 2020, North Korea had an advantage over other countries: a large part of the population has never interacted with strangers, like most people, international travel is tightly controlled and rarely allowed. Even internal movement is severely restricted, making it more difficult for a disease to spread.

People wearing protective face masks commute amid concerns over the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pyongyang, North Korea on March 30, 2020, in this photo released by Kyodo. PHOTO: Kyodo/via Reuters.

Nevertheless, the country was not completely isolated, as in the northern region many illegally crossed the border to work occasionally in China and then returned to China. North Korea. There was also a lot of official traffic across the border. But in January 2020, North Korean leaders closed the border completely and ended almost all cross-border trade.

Fast forward to early 2022 and an omicron outbreak in North Korea caused the virus to spread so rapidly that the COVID denial strategy was no longer viable. Some Sources have speculated that a massive military parade held to mark the 90th anniversary of the North Korean military was a superspreader event, leading to a lockdown in the capital Pyongyang.

“North Koreans are particularly vulnerable for a variety of reasons. First, although the population is not obese (a COVID killer), many suffer from severe chronic malnutrition. According to a UN report, 42 .4% of North Koreans suffered from malnutrition between 2018 and 2021. Moreover, the healthcare system is so underdeveloped that it cannot provide the life-saving treatments that many Western COVID patients have received.

On May 20, authorities said that 2.5 million North Koreans had contracted COVID (called a “fever”). Apparently 1.8 million people have recovered and 66 people have died. But it is very likely that there were many more illnesses and death.

North Koreans are particularly vulnerable for various reasons. First, although the population is not obese (a postman in COVID mortality), many suffer from severe chronic malnutrition. According to a UN report, 42.4% of North Koreans suffered from malnutrition during 2018-21. Moreover, the healthcare system is so underdeveloped that it cannot provide the life-saving treatments that many western COVID patients have received.

Andrei Lankov, director of the analysis and information company Korean Risk Group, reported that the North Korean authorities advise the general population not to consult a doctor but to treat the disease with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Lankov suggests that if they went to hospitals, the treatment they would receive would be no different.

Previously in the pandemic
At first, there was a risk that the virus could reach North Korea from China. Nevertheless, in April 2020, expert analysts believed that North Korea had largely succeeded in contain the epidemic.

Still, there were persistent reports of some deaths from COVID. For example, it was reported at the start of the pandemic that 180 soldiers had died from COVID and 3,700 had been quarantined. However, establishing details of what is happening in North Korea is still extremely difficult due to secrecy and poor record keeping.

Extreme measures appear to have been taken both to prevent the spread of news and to keep the virus under control. Sources say that doctors were not allowed to discuss COVID with anyone in order to protect the country’s reputation. The town of Kaesong, near the South Korean border, was closed for three weeks due to one case of COVID.

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Until the end of 2021, the North Korean regime’s approach to the outside world was one of denial. He claimed to be COVID-free, relying on his full control of information, as well as general information authoritarian restrictions on the population. Although the outside world did not believe North Korea was entirely case-free, the leadership managed to maintain internal control.

However, this strategy of containment has had serious consequences for North Korea’s economy, as trade with China has dwindled to a trickle and the country, already subject to very severe sanctions by the States. States, had to face a serious and growing crisis. food shortage.

Kim Jong-un’s regime has rejected foreign aid to help deal with the pandemic. In July 2021, North Korea was offered and rejected two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He also refused the three million doses of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac which were allocated to North Korea by the global immunization team. Instead, Kim continued to deal with the pandemic in her his own way.

For now, the greatest danger to Kim’s authoritarian regime does not come from the general population, but from the the country’s elite. However, from the start of the pandemic, North Korean leaders did everything possible to protect the elite, providing masks, requiring social distancing and privileged access to health care.

The elderly in remote rural areas are the most exposed. But the combination of growing food shortages, the economic consequences of domestic restrictions, slowing trade and the near collapse of informal markets due to trade restrictions mean that there are real risks to the stability of North Korea. Kim may be forced to accept more international aid and reduce the sanctions burden to control the situation.

This may explain the recent frequency of missile launches and preparations for a new nuclear test. As in the past, North Korea may seek to pressure the international community to increase its bargaining power with the United States.

It is not yet known how the United States will react.The conversation

Christopher Bluthis a professor of international relations and security at University of Bradford. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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