The grand military parade Held on April 25 was supposed to show North Korea’s might, but this massive act to commemorate the founding of its army may have inadvertently triggered an “explosive” Covid outbreak in the country, according to experts.
North Korea announced this Friday its first confirmed death from Covid-19 due to a rapid outbreak of the coronavirus that has spread nationwide “since the end of April.” and has 187,000 people “isolated and treated” for feveraccording to the official KCNA agency.
According to images of the military parade on April 25 released by state television, thousands of people -without a mask, or respecting a social distance- gathered in Kim Il Sung square, in the capital Pyongyang, to attend the martial passage of the soldiers. , and applaud the weapons displayed.
The current outbreak of Covid-19 “is closely linked to that parade on April 25,” said Hong Min, a researcher at the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Reunification.
“More than 20,000 people had been preparing for the parade for two months before, and stayed in the capital to have the opportunity to photograph Kim Jong Un,” the North Korean leader, says the researcher.
The Kim regime seems to have realized the “gravity” of the situation belatedly, and carried out Covid-19 tests on the participants only when they returned to their home districts.
“Hold a military parade attended by a large crowd, while the Omicron variant affected neighboring Chinashows North Korea’s great confidence in its ability to prevent and combat the virus,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute.
North Korea had imposed a strict foreign lockdown since early 2020, as soon as the virus emerged in China.
With their 25 million inhabitants without vaccinating against Covid-19 and despite poor health infrastructure, North Korea officially kept Covid at bay for two years, during which no cases were reported.
Pyongyang even held a night military parade in September 2021, without consequences, although according to photographs of the event there were participants wearing masks.
But over time, North Korea may have lowered its guard against the virus. Meanwhile, China, North Korea’s only great ally and benefactor, maintains a restrictive “Covid zero” approach to the pandemic and is currently battling several outbreaks of the omicron variant on its territory.
Earlier this year, North Korea temporarily eased its near-total blockade of land trade on the border with China, which may have been the source of the current Omicron outbreak, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
“The virus could have entered North Korea through three routes: rail, ports or smuggling. But it came from China,” he says.