North Korea Fights Covid-19 Outbreak Without International Aid
While North Korea is reporting hundreds of thousands of “fever cases” a day, several international aid organizations say they’ve not heard from Pyongyang seeking Covid-19 help to combat one of the country’s worst crises in years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared a state of emergency and mobilized troops to head off the spread of what the state calls a “malicious” epidemic, but there have been no signs his regime has or will reach out to the outside world for aid, according to six international organizations that have in the past provided humanitarian and medical assistance.
North Korean state media are increasing coverage of the fight against coronavirus since the country first acknowledged the spread of the virus on Thursday. The coverage is carefully edited to present images of stable support to communities around the country.
North Korean media is all controlled by the state, and the state has made clear that the mission of media is to present an image of what authorities would like to see.
Deliveries of food to people stuck at home, workers at shops and factories spraying the places while wearing full body protective suits and goggles, and pharmacies prepared to provide medicines – these are the images that North Korean television is showing now.
But the reality is that even in pre-Covid times, North Korea has always been short of medicine.
Since the country closed its borders because of Covid-19 in January 2020, movement of people and goods have been almost impossible.
State media are showing a massive attempt to cope with Covid-19 but it is impossible for people outside the country to understand how North Koreans are experiencing this crisis.
The lack of requests for assistance is worrisome to health officials who say the spreading cases indicate the country may be facing a public health crisis that could overwhelm its antiquated medical system. The country is even more vulnerable after it has consistently rejected offers of vaccines. Estimates from the United Nations’ food aid agency said about 40% of its population is undernourished, which could magnify the impact of the virus.
Gavi’s Covax, the World Health Organization-backed group that supplies vaccines to countries based on need, has previously allocated doses to North Korea, which rejected them, a Gavi spokesperson said in an email.
Covax “has always been ready to support Pyongyang should it request our assistance,” the spokesperson said, adding “so far, no formal requests for Covid-19 vaccines have been received.”
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