Seoul, South Korea ( Associated Press) — A large number of North Koreans, including leader Kim Jong Un, attended the funeral of a top official, state media reported on Monday, as the country maintained the much-anticipated claim that it had suspected a coronavirus outbreak. is decreasing.
Since admitting an outbreak earlier this month Regarding the Omicron version, North Korea has only reported how many people have fevers per day, and has only identified a few cases as COVID-19. Its state media said on Monday that 2.8 million people have been sickened by an unknown fever, but only 68 of them have died since late April, a death rate extremely low if the disease is suspected to be COVID-19.
North Korea has limited testing capacity There are many ill-wishers for it, but some experts say it is underestimating the death rate to save Kim from political damage.,
The official Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday that Kim attended the funeral of the Korean People’s Army Marshal, Hyon Chol Hee, who helped prepare Kim’s father as the country’s next leader before his death in late 2011. played an important role.
State media photos showed a bare-faced Kim carrying Hyun’s coffin with other men wearing masks, before throwing earth at his grave at the national cemetery. He showed several soldiers in olive-green uniforms saluting, while other officers were dressed in dark suits. KCNA said that when Hyun’s coffin was taken to the cemetery, “many” soldiers and civilians first took to the streets to express their condolences.
North Korea follows a nationwide lockdown and other stringent rules to contain the virus outbreak. Region-by-region movement has been banned, but major agricultural, economic and other industrial activities continued in an apparent attempt to minimize damage to the country’s already dying economy.
The KCNA said on Monday that 167,650 new fever cases have been detected in the past 24-hour period, a marked decline from the peak of about 390,000 reported almost a week ago. It said one more person had died and the fever had a mortality rate of 0.002%.
“All the people of (North Korea) maintain the current favorable turn in the anti-epidemic campaign with maximum awareness in response to the call of the Party Central Committee to protect their precious lives and future, with confidence in sure victory and with great efforts. repeat. ,” KCNA said.
Experts question the true toll, given that North Korea’s 26 million people are mostly illiterate and about 40% are reportedly malnourished. The public health care system is nearly broken and there is a shortage of medicine and supplies. In South Korea, where most of its 52 million people have been fully vaccinated, the COVID-19 death rate was 0.13% as of Monday.
South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers last week that some of the fever cases reported by North Korea include people suffering from other diseases such as measles, typhoid and pertussis. But some civilian experts believe that most of the cases were of COVID-19.
Before acknowledging Omicron’s outbreak on May 12, North Korea insisted it was virus-free throughout the pandemic. It rejected millions of vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program and did not respond to offers of medicine and other aid from South Korea and the United States.
World Health Organization They have also requested for more information about the outbreak, but have not received any response.
Some observers say that North Korea will only receive aid from its last major ally, China, as a Western aid shipment could hurt Kim’s leadership as he has to “self-reliance” to fight against repeated US-led pressure campaigns. is called for.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.