North Korea launches 3 ballistic missiles amid its first COVID outbreak

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On Thursday, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards the sea, just hours after confirming its first-ever coronavirus outbreak.

The short-range missiles were just the latest weapons demonstration, among the over 13 reported launches this year alone.

They are the first missiles to be fired since South Korea’s conservative new president Yoon Suk-yeol took office on Tuesday.

The news also comes amid U.S. President Biden’s scheduled visit to South Korea’s capital next week. Concerns about North Korea’s weapons are expected to be a high-priority topic.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Ewha Womans University professor Leif-Eric Easley predicted that North Korea’s virus outbreak will incite a period in which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be forced to become “less interested in nuclear or missile tests” and instead more focused on resolving the coronavirus threat.

The professor of international studies also added that “for Pyongyang to publicly admit omicron cases, the public health situation must be serious.”

The state-run Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the virus samples collected Sunday were of the omicron variant. The people tested were from the capital city of Pyongyang, although the number of cases is unknown.

In a state television clip, Kim is seen entering a meeting room with a mask on, only taking it off to speak into a microphone. The rest of the officials present in the room all keep their masks on.

Kim announced that there would be a complete lockdown of cities to stop the spread of the virus. He communicated that control of transmissions was critical to eliminating the spread as quickly as possible.

He assured the public that the country would overcome the outbreak because its government and people were “united as one.”

Even if North Korea implements a strict quarantine model similar to China’s “zero-COVID” policy, it is likely to struggle to contain the spread of the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The country’s largely unvaccinated population of 26 million is predicted to suffer more casualties, with its poor healthcare system, than its industrialized nation counterparts, perhaps explaining why Kim has chosen to acknowledge the local outbreak, in hopes of foreign aid.

 

Featured Image via Al Jazeera English

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