The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday expressed concern over the current COVID-19 outbreak in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), where no public vaccination programme has been put in place, reiterating its commitment to support the country response to the pandemic.

In a statement, WHO took note of the “deaths and large number of people with fever” as reported by the official news agency KCNA, for DPRK – commonly known as North Korea – but said they are still awaiting information from the International Health Regulations national focal point, concerning the extent and severity of the first officially recorded outbreak.

“We stand committed to assist our member country, as needed, by providing technical support to scale up testing, strengthen case management, implement situation-specific public health and social measures, and provide essential medical supplies and medicines,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, South-East Asia WHO Director.

Vaccination yet to begin​

WHO had supported the country to develop a COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan as well as aided the country with its national strategic preparedness and response plans.

The vaccination plan was reviewed and approved by a multi-partner body at the regional level, clearing the way for North Korea to receive COVID-19 immunizations through the international COVAX facility.

“With the country yet to initiate COVID-19 vaccination, there is risk that the virus may spread rapidly among the masses unless curtailed with immediate and appropriate measures,” she said.

Pandemic ‘far from over’​

The expert reminded that it is important for all countries, irrespective of their COVID-19 transmission status, to roll out COVID-19 vaccination, which protects against severe disease and death.

The pandemic is far from over. Every country must implement tailored public health and social measures and protect its population with COVID-19 vaccines, prioritizing the vulnerable population such as health workers, the elderly and those with underlying conditions that puts them at risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19,” Dr. Khetrapal highlighted.

According to the national news agency of DPR Korea, as of May 15, a total of 50 people had died in the country, with over a million cases of “fever” and over half a million currently receiving medical treatment.