GENEVA, May 17 (Reuters) – A senior World Health Organization official said on Tuesday that high levels of transmission of the coronavirus among unvaccinated people, such as in North Korea, create a higher risk of new variants .
The isolated country, a member of the WHO, is grappling with its first recognized COVID-19 outbreak, fueling concerns about a major crisis due to lack of vaccines and medical infrastructure.
“It is certainly concerning that countries … are not using the tools that are now available,” WHO Emergency Director Mike Ryan said in response to a question about the outbreak in North Korea.
“WHO has repeatedly said that where you have uncontrolled transmission there is always a higher risk of new variants emerging,” he said.
At the same press briefing, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said he was “deeply concerned” about the spread of the virus among an unvaccinated population with many underlying conditions.
The UN health agency has previously said that Pyongyang has yet to officially notify it of the outbreak, which appears to be a breach of the country’s legal obligations under the WHO’s International Health Regulations.
Asked how the WHO would respond, Ryan said the body was ready to help but had no power to interfere in a sovereign country. (Reporting by Emma Farge, editing by Miranda Murray)