COVID ‘worse, not better’ in North Korea, says WHO

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A worker at the Pyongyang dental hygiene products factory in North Korea disinfected the dining room floor last month. (Cha Song Ho/The Singapore Time)

A senior World Health Organization official said the United Nations health agency assumes North Korea’s coronavirus outbreak is “worsening, not better”, despite the country’s recent secret claims that which COVID-19 is slowing down there.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan called on North Korean authorities to get more information about the COVID-19 outbreak there, saying that “we have real problems accessing the raw data and the real situation on the ground.” He said the WHO had not received any inside information about the outbreak – unlike typical outbreaks where countries can share more sensitive data with the organization so it can assess public health risks to the community. world.

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“It’s very, very difficult to provide proper analysis to the world when we don’t have access to the necessary data,” he said. The WHO has previously expressed concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on North Korea’s population, which is believed to be largely unvaccinated and whose fragile health systems may struggle to cope with a surge of cases. caused by the super-infectious omicron and its subvariants.

Ryan said the WHO has offered technical assistance and supplies to North Korean officials on several occasions, including offering COVID-19 vaccines on at least three separate occasions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other senior officials discussed revising tough anti-epidemic restrictions last week, state media reported, as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak was slowing.

Discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting on Sunday suggested he would soon ease a set of draconian restrictions imposed after he admitted the Omicron outbreak this month out of concern over his food and economic situation.

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North Korea’s claims that it controlled COVID-19 without widespread vaccinations, lockdowns or drugs have sparked widespread disbelief, especially its insistence that only dozens have died among several million people infected – a mortality rate much lower than that observed elsewhere in the world.

The North Korean government said there were around 3.7 million people with fever or suspected of COVID-19. But he revealed few details about the severity of the illness or how many people have recovered, frustrating public health experts’ attempt to understand the extent of the outbreak.

“We would really like to ask for a more open approach so that we can help the people of [North Korea], as at this time we are unable to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” Ryan said. He said the WHO was working with neighboring countries like China and South Korea to learn more about what might be happening in North Korea, saying the outbreak there could potentially have global implications.

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The WHO’s criticism of North Korea’s failure to provide more information about its COVID-19 outbreak contrasts with the UN health agency’s failure to publicly blame the China at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In early 2020, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly publicly praised China for its rapid response to the emergence of the coronavirus, even as WHO scientists privately complained about the delay in sharing. of information by China and blocked the sharing of the genetic sequence of COVID-19.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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