Experts say the spread of COVID-19 in North Korea is likely linked to a military parade

Experts say a huge military parade celebrating the founding of the military is said to have unwittingly spread COVID-19 across the country in a triumphant celebration of North Korea’s martial prowess.

• Also read: COVID-19 in North Korea: what do we know about the healthcare system?

North Korea announced its first death from COVID-19 on Friday, saying the virus had already spread across the country, with “a ‘fever’ spreading explosively across the country from late April,” according to the official KCNA news agency.

For Hong Min, a researcher at the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification, the current COVID-19 pandemic is “closely linked to the April 25 Parade,” a gigantic military parade marking the 90th anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army .

Footage of the event, broadcast by state television, shows thousands of people — unmasked and not social distancing — crowding Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square to watch the parade of soldiers and the passage of tanks, launchers and large ones Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to be welcomed. .

“More than 20,000 people prepared for the parade two months before the event and stayed in the capital for photo ops with Kim Jong Un,” Hong Min told AFP.

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According to him, Kim Jong Un’s regime appears to have been late in “realizing” the seriousness of the situation and conducting Covid-19 screening tests after parade participants returned to their districts.

“Holding a military parade in the presence of a large crowd while the Omicron variant raged in neighboring China shows that Pyongyang was overconfident in fighting and preventing the virus,” says Sejong Institute’s Cheong Seongchang.

The withdrawn country reported its first cases of coronavirus on Thursday and declared a national lockdown. Six people with “fever” have died in the country, including one who tested positive for Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant, according to official news agency KCNA.

None of the country’s 25 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and Pyongyang has turned down offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organization, China and Russia.

North Korea was one of the first countries to close its borders in January 2020 after the virus emerged in neighboring China.

Its strict isolation policy initially appeared to be keeping Covid at bay, and the country went two years without reporting cases, although some experts have doubted that claim.

Pyongyang even held a night military parade in September 2021 with no reported consequences, although photos from the event show participants wearing masks.

But over time, North Korea appears to have eased its domestic vigilance as state media reports on the fight against the outbreak become more sporadic, analysts said.

At the time of the 2021 parade, movement of people and goods to and from China was almost completely blocked, notes Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

But earlier this year, North Korea briefly eased its health restrictions, which likely led to the current Omicron outbreak, he adds.

“The virus could have entered North Korea through three different routes: rail, shipping and smuggling,” he added.

“The fact is that he came from China”.

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