North Korea COVID situation 'very worrying' for mutations: experts
Delta and Omicron ― the SARS-CoV-2 variants that have perpetuated the global pandemic ― were first detected in places where vaccination rates were low and new cases were surging. This is what makes the COVID-19 situation in North Korea especially concerning ― for everyone within and outside its borders ― according to medical experts, Thursday. "The environments where the Delta and Omicron variants emerged in India and South Africa, respectively, show that unvaccinated populations could fuel the formation of new variants," Kim Sin-gon, a professor at Korea University College of Medicine, said at a seminar in Seoul on North Korea's COVID-19 situation. His concern is in line with that of the World Health Organization, which warned on May 17 that a combination of unvaccinated people and "unchecked transmission" in the North may give rise to yet another deadly variant. The same day, North Korea confirmed more than 105,500 new fever cases, with "no deaths" over the past 24 hours as of 6 p.
With the assumption that almost all fever patients are infected with Omicron ― only 30 percent of the patients, excluding the ones showing no symptoms, are feverish ― Kim believes the real case numbers could be more than 10 million. "The timing of the outbreak is also concerning, given that they plant their rice between May and June. In its battle against COVID-19, North Korea has been copying China's zero-tolerance policy which involves draconian lockdowns, urging the public to remain vigilant. However, the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party, showed confidence in "defeating" the virus, saying that Omicron would soon become endemic. As North Korea continues to promote its "autonomous" fight against COVID-19, citing the state ideology "Juche" which can be translated to "self-reliance," it is unlikely that it will accept medical help from South Korea or the United States, according to Nam Sang-wook, a professor of North Korea studies at Korea University.
"So, one thing that the Yoon Suk-yeol administration could consider providing is food, which the North will need and may accept," he said. Following the reports about COVID-19 cases in North Korea, the South and the United States offered support, including a supply of vaccines. "When faced with major economic or social crises, the North accepted help from the South and international organizations … For three years from 2010 after the floods, the North received support from our government and civic groups. Given that it may be too late to offer vaccines, another good option could be providing Paxlovid, an effective ― but expensive ― oral antiviral pill for COVID-19, Kim added. "Data shows the medicine reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by nearly 90 percent.
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