LONDON (AP) — A senior World Health Organization official has said the UN health agency expects the coronavirus outbreak in North Korea to be “worse, not better,” despite the mysterious country’s recent claims that COVID-19 is slowing there .
At a briefing on Wednesday, Dr. WHO Emergencies Chief Mike Ryan told North Korean authorities for more information on the COVID-19 outbreak there, saying, “We’re having real problems getting access to the raw data and the actual situation on the ground.” He said WHO has not received privileged information about the epidemic – unlike typical outbreaks, where countries may share more sensitive data with the organization so it can assess the public health risks to the global community.
“It’s very, very difficult to provide proper analysis to the world if we don’t have access to the data we need,” he said. The WHO has previously raised 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 spate of cases brought on by the super-infectious omicron and its sub-variants are triggered.
Ryan said the WHO has offered technical assistance and supplies to North Korean officials on a number of occasions, including offering COVID-19 vaccines on at least three separate occasions.
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other senior officials discussed the revision of strict restrictions to combat epidemics, State media reported as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak is slowing.
Discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting on Sunday suggested it would soon ease a series of draconian restrictions imposed after the outbreak was announced in early May amid concerns about its food and economic health.
North Korea claims to have controlled COVID-19 Without widespread vaccination, lockdowns or medication have met with widespread disbelief, particularly the insistence that only tens of many millions of those infected have died – a far lower death rate than anywhere else in the world.
The North Korean government said there were about 3.7 million people with fevers or suspected cases of COVID-19. But it revealed few details about the severity of the disease or how many people have recovered, frustrating public health experts’ attempts to understand the scale of the outbreak.
“We would really advocate a more open approach so that we can come to the aid of the people of (North Korea) given our current inability to do a proper risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” Ryan said. He said the WHO is working with neighboring countries like China and South Korea to learn more about what could be happening in North Korea, saying the epidemic there could potentially have a global impact.
The WHO’s criticism of North Korea’s failure to provide more information on its COVID-19 outbreak contrasts with the UN health agency’s failure to publicly blame China in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
In early 2020, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly publicly praised China for its prompt response to the emergence of the coronavirus, even when WHO scientists privately grumbled about China’s delay in sharing information and stalled on sharing the genetic sequence of COVID-19.
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