First death linked to Covid-19 in North Korea, China offers its help

First death linked to Covid-19 in North Korea, China offers its help

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In North Korea, 187,800 people are said to be in quarantine due to a fever and six people have died, one of whom would have tested positive. Kim Jong-un has decided to contain the entire country, while North Korea, without a vaccine and with a very fragile health system, does not seem able to cope with a large-scale wave.

By testing three short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, May 12, North Korea seemed to want to show that business was business as usual. But the first image of Kim Jong-un wearing a mask and the hundreds of thousands of cases of ” suspicious fever announced by the regime, including 18,000 new ones in twenty-four hours, demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

Especially since according to Cheong Seong-chang, director of research at the Sejong Institute, it could be that the military parade on April 25 was a trigger for the current epidemic wave.

When the epidemic situation in China was very serious, the regime held a large rally without anyone wearing a mask. The country was overconfident in its ability to withstand the pandemic.

With an extremely fragile hospital system, without large-scale screening capacity, it will be impossible to have a precise idea of ​​the spread of the virus, and very complicated for the government to put in place effective health restrictions, reports our correspondent in Seoul. , Nicholas Rocca.

A member of Phyongchon District Hygiene and Epidemic Control Center disinfects the hallway of a building in Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. AP – Jon Chol Jin

► To read also: First case of Covid-19 in North Korea, Kim Jong-un orders “containment”

drought wave

Especially since this wave of fever comes in the midst of drought and during the transplanting of rice, a crucial period for the country’s food security. Moreover, while in Pyongyang the inhabitants would have received the order to return home on Tuesday, on the border with the South, peasants were seen this Thursday continuing their agricultural activities. It would seem that the regime wants to continue economic activities as normally as possible while severely limiting the freedom of movement that was already limited.

North Korea's Kaepoong city is seen from the Unification Observatory in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, May 12, 2022.
North Korea’s Kaepoong city is seen from the Unification Observatory in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, May 12, 2022. AP – Lee Jin-man

Now experts are wondering whether North Korea will continue with its missile tests or maybe even take it to the next level with a nuclear test. ” When the situation is complicated and the population is depressed, the regime needs something sensational to stimulate the people “says Cheong Seong-chang,

An option for the scheme to ” wake » patriotic fervor in his fight against the virus. Especially since the moment is favorable for an escalation of tensions: Joe Biden arrives in Seoul on May 20 to meet the new South Korean president Yoon Seok-yeol, a supporter of a hard line against Pyongyang.

China ready to help its northern neighbor

As a comrade, neighbor and friend “, Beijing says it is ready to support North Korea in its fight against the epidemic. Pyongyang, which sounded the general confinement against the variant Omicron BA.2has actually, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, closed like an oyster.

A veritable iron curtain, after having refused offers of vaccine donations from Beijing, Moscow and the World Health Organization. To the south, the border with the Republic of Korea has been hermetically sealed since the shutdown of the inter-Korean industrial zone of Kaesong. Same on the 19 kilometers along Russia, by which Russian diplomats went out on a railway cart during the winter of 2021, images that had gone around the world, recalls our correspondent in Beijing, Stephane Lagarde. There remains China, where the Yalu and Tumen rivers are the only breathing pockets of a self-sufficient North Korean economy. Trucks and freight trains resumed their round trips a year ago.

But since the beginning of this year, the Dongbei region, in northeast China, and in particular the autonomous prefecture of Yanbian, has been hit hard by the resurgence of Covid-19 cases. On April 30, the first alert: China and North Korea suspended crossings between the two countries for fear of the virus spreading.

This Thursday, the spokesperson for Chinese diplomacy does not specify that it could be the help provided: protective clothing and masks, nucleic tests or even medical personnel? North Korea officially conducted just over 13,000 PCR tests in 2020.

► To read also: “Zero Covid”: despite criticism, the Chinese state clings firmly to its strategy

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