Pyongyang shows no signs of accepting vaccines or other help to fight the virus.
As North Korea rattles its foreign rivals by stepping up displays of firepower, the coronavirus could attack the hermit kingdom from within.
In a rare admission this week, North Korean state media announced its first cases of COVID-19, including six deaths from the virus and 350,000 additional infections since April (though experts say those numbers are likely a lot). higher).
After insisting for more than two years that the country was unaffected by the global pandemic, its leader Kim Jong Un locked down all cities and counties as part of a “maximum emergency” response. “, and was spotted wearing a mask for the first time.
Despite the outbreak, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles this week, evidence of Pyongyang’s commitment to expanding its military arsenal and hardening its stance against the West.
While the country has stepped up its nuclear weapons program, its health system remains underfunded and ill-equipped to handle an influx of patients. According to the World Health Organization, it is one of only two countries that has not yet launched a vaccination campaign against COVID-19.
Pyongyang has refused help even from close allies, such as China, so offers to share vaccines from its sworn enemies are almost certain to prove futile.
The State Department has confirmed that the United States does not intend to give doses to North Korea, but a spokesperson told ABC News “we strongly support and encourage the efforts of organizations to U.S. and International Aid and Health Services to try to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19.
The spokesperson added that if COVAX – a global initiative to which the United States has pledged to donate more than a billion doses by the end of next year – decides to allocate vaccines to the North Korea, the department would support the decision.
However, Pyongyang is yet to accept a single shot from COVAX.
“We urge the DPRK (North Korea) to work with the international community to facilitate the rapid vaccination of its people,” the spokesperson added.
In addition to vaccines, North Korea is said to lack adequate testing capabilities and antiviral treatments to treat COVID-19. Its isolation also means that very few of its citizens are likely to have ever been infected and recovered, giving them some level of immunity.
The capital hosted a massive military parade late last month which may have contributed to the spread of the virus.
President Joe Biden is due to visit South Korea and Japan next week, his first trip to the region since taking office. North Korea’s nuclear provocations and the additional instability the coronavirus could bring to the country will likely be the main items on the agenda.
On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone with his newly appointed counterpart in South Korea. According to a reading provided by the State Department, the two officials condemned North Korea’s latest missile launches. South Korea’s foreign ministry also said it had discussed the country’s coronavirus outbreak.