In Pyongyang, authorities on Thursday attributed the outbreak to the highly contagious BA.2 omicron subfactor. On Friday, state media reported that one person had died and that 350,000 people had developed symptoms of fever.
Many health experts were already skeptical that North Korea had not yet reported a single case Corona Virus Status – more than two years into the epidemic. For its part, Eritrea has admitted about 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 103 deaths, figures much lower than those of its neighbours.
“North Korea, which has a significant gap in immunity — no acquired protection from vaccines or previous infections — is an open field for uncontrolled transmission, raising the potential for new variants,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Center for Global Health Policy in North Korea. Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Unless North Korea is able to reduce transmission through lockdown, a “very high percentage of the population” will soon be infected, John B. Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University Weill Cornell Medicine, said in an email.
“It can be horrific,” he said. To the extent that it may affect the regime’s control over the population.
In both countries, rumors swirled that political elites had already been vaccinated – and that their rejection of foreign-made vaccines was just for show.
Eritrea, under president and strongman Isaias Afwerki, has ignored requests from other African countries to join Covax, a global vaccination effort backed by the World Health Organization. Some Activists say The country is full of propaganda portraying Covax as a Western tool to destroy Africa.
In December, the head of the African Centers for Disease Control, John Nkengasong, said that Eritrea was the only member of the African Union that “has not joined a family of 55 member states moving forward with vaccination, but we are not giving up.”
In North Korea, the government rejected doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to apparent concerns about potential side effects. like that lower his voice It has delivered nearly 3 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, saying shipments should go to other countries experiencing more severe outbreaks.
Last month, a group of experts At the invitation of the Center for Strategic and International Studies He recommended that North Korea be offered a large-scale donation of mRNA vaccines. But the vaccines Previously assigned to North Korea Under the Covax plan it is no longer available.
Morrison said Kovacs and other donors were “tired” of North Korea’s unresponsive nature during the pandemic. “This does not rule out a re-examination of the issues of what to do on the basis of the collapse,” he added.
A spokesperson for Gavi, a non-profit organization that helps coordinate Covax, said the initiative was “not currently committed to any size” to North Korea. But the spokesman said that if Pyongyang goes ahead with its national vaccination program, Gavi can work with Covax to help North Korea catch up on its immunization goals.
Pyongyang may not have a choice. Even in partially vaccinated places like China or Hong Kong, omicron subvariants have spread astonishingly fast among the pockets of unvaccinated people — with fatal consequences similar in magnitude to the first wave of cases in other parts of the world.
China, North Korea’s most important ally, is fighting an outbreak of the BA.2 virus and has imposed a severe lockdown on its commercial hub, Shanghai.
“China itself is struggling with the spread of the omicron variant, so I’m not sure if it has strong incentives to help North Korea fight the virus,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Model released as initial print Estimated this week That if China relaxes what it calls its “zero virus” policy, the virus could kill up to 1.5 million people.
In North Korea, it would be “much worse, because of the minimal uptake of the vaccine there,” Moore said.
Michelle Lee contributed to this report.
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