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The UN expressed alarm Tuesday over North Korea’s growing Covid outbreak, emphasizing that the country’s unvaccinated populace was most vulnerable, and reaffirmed its offer to provide relief and immunizations.

The World Health Organization has warned that the exceedingly contagious Omicron strain of Covid might wreak devastation on the impoverished country shortly. Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Office warned that present measures risk violating rights and endangering vulnerable individuals.

Since the state revealed its first Covid case a week ago, 56 deaths and nearly 1.5 million cases of “fever” have been reported in North Korea, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“The World Health Organization is deeply concerned about the possibility of further Covid-19 spreading throughout the country,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The World Health Agency has demanded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reveal statistics and information,” he said, adding that the organization had supplied technical assistance and supplies, testing, medicines, and vaccines to help Pyongyang contain the spread.

Risk of new variants

Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered statewide lockdowns and dispatched the military in response to what he calls a poor response to the outbreak.

The government does not appear to have gotten UN help as of yet. The WHO, on the other hand, stated that there was no way to force North Korea or Eritrea — the world’s only other country that has not begun vaccinating its citizens against Covid – to accept assistance.

If Covid spreads unchecked, new and perhaps more dangerous strains will emerge, putting the entire planet at risk. “There is always a bigger potential of novel variants appearing when there is unregulated transmission,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters. “It is concerning if governments… do not use the instruments that are now available.”

While there is concern that more lethal Covid variants will emerge, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical head, underlined that the current Omicron version was harmful.

“The idea that Omicron is sympathetic is false… That tale is harmful because individuals assume they are safe,” she said. She claims that Omicron can cause “severe illness and death” in the unvaccinated, especially the elderly or those with underlying conditions. “This is why vaccines are so important.”

Negative ramifications 

 Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations warned that Pyongyang’s efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons could result in grave human rights violations.

“The additional restrictions, which include placing people in strict isolation and imposing further travel limits, could have disastrous consequences for those who are already struggling to meet their basic needs,” said UN rights office spokesperson Liz Throssell.

“We urge… authorities to ensure that any response to the pandemic is necessary, reasonable, non-discriminatory, time-bound, and fully adheres to international human rights law,” she added.

Throssell also urged states to “lift sanctions to facilitate crucial humanitarian and Covid-related assistance” to the poor country. North Korea, according to experts, has one of the world’s poorest healthcare systems, with ill-equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no Covid treatment drugs or mass testing capability.

“We strongly urge the DPRK to provide humanitarian corridors for medications, vaccines, equipment, and other life-saving aid as quickly as feasible,” Throssell continued.

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