North Korea has confirmed an infection for the first time since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. At least that’s what the state media report at night. North Korea expert Martin Fritz is a freelance journalist in Tokyo and classifies this news.
The journalist Martin Fritz worked as a radio correspondent for ARD in Tokyo. As a freelance journalist, he also reports on North and South Korea. Previously he was South Asia Correspondent in New Delhi for five years.
SRF News: Is it credible that the first case of infection occurred in North Korea?
Martin Fritz: That doesn’t sound very likely. On the other hand, at the very beginning of the pandemic in February two years ago, North Korea closed its borders and practically no longer let anyone into the country. And the few goods that were imported first had to be quarantined for three months.
Ultimately, it was only a matter of time before the corona virus also appeared in North Korea.
But I don’t think there is a way to stop this highly contagious omicron variant. Especially since there has also been a little trade with China since January. Two weeks ago, tens of thousands marched through Pyongyang without masks in a parade. Ultimately, it was only a matter of time before the corona virus also appeared in North Korea.
The state news agency describes this as a serious national emergency. Is the country not prepared for this pandemic?
No, not at all. The Politburo rightly rang the alarm bells. Virtually no North Koreans are vaccinated, and many people are malnourished and therefore vulnerable to disease. Medical care is miserable. There are hardly any intensive care beds, hardly any medication, hardly any functioning equipment, especially outside of the capital Pyongyang. If the virus now spreads unchecked in North Korea, it will cost a great many lives.
North Korea has also received offers from international organizations for vaccines. What is going on there?
Apart from Eritrea, North Korea is the only country in the world that has not yet carried out vaccinations. The government has rejected the offer by the international Covax initiative to get two million doses of vaccine free of charge. The main reason for this may have been that Covax demands transparency in the distribution and implementation. The regime does not want to give outsiders such insights.
The country is otherwise already sealed off. One is very keen on isolation. What else should come with a lockdown?
The Politburo has decided that all cities and districts in the country should be thoroughly sealed off. The question is how tough these lockdowns can be. The authorities in North Korea would certainly be overwhelmed with providing the 26 million inhabitants with food. The Politburo also decided that production should continue. Only each production unit should isolate itself. This could mean that the workers stay in their factories and the farmers continue to go to the fields. After all, leader Kim Jong-un recently warned of supply problems.
If this outbreak cannot be stopped soon, there is certainly a threat of a leadership crisis.
What does that mean for the regime and the “dear leader” in Pyongyang?
If this outbreak cannot be stopped soon, an economic crisis is almost inevitable, and there is certainly a threat of a leadership crisis as well. Especially when the disease hits the party and military cadres who live in Pyongyang and who support the regime. So far, leader Kim has boasted he has the pandemic under control. Now the state media is already saying that those responsible acted carelessly, irresponsibly and incompetently.
The interviewer was Salvador Atasoy.