With COVID infections suspected to have soared into the millions, North Korea has finally begun its vaccination program — calling the COVID-19 vaccines from China an “immortal potion of love,” according to broadcasts from their leader Kim Jong-un, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
Although the vaccines are so far reserved only for soldiers working on national construction projects, this is the first time the country has administered vaccines in large numbers.
Kim has promised to build 50,000 new homes for the residents of Pyongyang by the end of 2025 — mobilizing tens of thousands of soldiers to work on the projects. North Korea’s government had originally hoped to complete 10,000 homes in 2021, but the project fell behind schedule. Now, officials are hoping to meet that target sometime this year and construct an additional 10,000 by the end of the year.
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“Last week I heard from a friend who works in the medical field that the soldiers who are working on the Ryonpho Greenhouse Farm in Hamju County have received COVID-19 vaccines,” a source with family in the country told RFA on May 25. “The government is so far only prioritizing soldiers working on these construction projects.”
Broadcasts promoting vaccine: ‘Caccination of love from the Highest Dignity’
Two anonymous sources with family in the country described to RFA how several broadcast vehicles would play loudspeaker messages at vaccination sites, highlighting how the vaccines were “a gracious gift” from Kim.
“They play loud political propaganda messages as the soldiers get injected with the vaccines from China,” two sources with family in the country told RFA under conditions of anonymity.
“They are calling it a ‘vaccination of love from the Highest Dignity,'” the source said, using the term of exaltation reserved for Kim Jong-un.
Another anonymous source confirmed the broadcasts to RFA. “A broadcast vehicle that appeared at the vaccination site loudly proclaimed the greatness of the general secretary, who prepared for them the ‘Immortal Potion of Love,’” she said.
The source added that the vaccines were imported from China but did not specify the type of vaccine. Pyongyang has previously received offers of vaccine donations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States, but did not respond to those offers.
Last September, North Korea also rejected nearly three million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China, asking for them to be sent to countries with a greater need for them.
Over 3 million suffering from ‘fever of unknown origin’
After more than two years of claiming that it had zero cases or transmissions throughout the pandemic, the authorities first acknowledged on May 19, that at least one North Korean had died from the virus.
The country announced its first positive case of the virus on May 13, but the number of actual infections is probably in the millions, based on uncharacteristic fever statistics put out by the North Korean regime. The total number of people afflicted with the fever in the country has topped 3.2 million, and 69 people have died from virus-related causes, according to state mouthpiece Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 26.
However, the country’s poor testing capabilities and lack of resources has hindered its ability to accurately diagnose cases as well as provide treatment for those exhibiting severe symptoms.
KCNA on May 27 reported that 323,300 people were undergoing treatment in a quarantine facility for the “fever of unknown origin.”
The report added that the mystery “fever” had spread throughout the country since the end of last month, though the report did not specify how many of those people had tested positive for COVID-19.
Although most countries have let up on lockdowns and vaccine mandates, North Korea has followed its ally China in pursuing a zero-tolerance approach against the virus.