Seoul, South Korea ( Associated Press) – North Korea on Saturday reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 more people with fever symptoms, as the country scrambles to slow the spread of COVID-19 in its uninsured population.
The new deaths and cases, which were up from Friday, increased the total to 27 deaths and 524,440 illnesses amid a rapid spread of fever since late April. North Korea said that 243,630 people have been cured and 280,810 people are in quarantine. State media did not specify how many fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 infections.
The country described maximum preventive measures on Thursday after its first COVID-19 cases were confirmed since the start of the pandemic. It was previously held for more than two years by the widely dubious claim of a perfect record for keeping out the virus, which has spread almost everywhere in the world.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described the outbreak as a historically “great upheaval” during a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Saturday and called for unity between the government and the people to stabilize the outbreak as soon as possible. called upon to
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said during the meeting officials mainly discussed ways to rapidly distribute the medical supplies the country released from its emergency stockpile. In a report submitted to the Politburo, the North’s Emergency Epidemic Office attributed most of the deaths to “mistakes such as drug overdose, lack of scientific medical treatment”.
Kim, who said he was donating some of his personal pharmaceutical supplies to help with the anti-virus campaign, expressed optimism that the country can bring the outbreak under control, adding that most transmissions are taking place within communities. which are isolated from each other and are not spreading from region to region.
He called on officials to draw lessons from other countries’ successful pandemic responses, and set an example in China, a key ally of the North.
However, China is facing pressure to change its so-called “zero-Covid” strategy, which has brought major cities to a standstill. Because it struggles to slow down the fast-moving Omicron version.
North Korea has taken steps aimed at restricting people’s movement and supplies between cities and counties since Thursday, but details of the measures by state media indicate people are not confined to their homes.
Experts say North Korea’s failure to control the spread of COVID-19 could have disastrous consequences given the country’s poor health care system and its 26 million people largely unvaccinated.
Testing of virus samples collected on Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fever in the country’s capital Pyongyang confirmed they were infected with the Omicron variant, state media said. The country has so far officially confirmed one death from an Omicron infection.
Experts say lacking vaccines, antiviral pills, intensive care units and other key health equipment to fight the virus, North Korea’s pandemic response will be mostly about isolating people in designated shelters.
North Korea doesn’t have the technical and other resources to enforce an extreme lockdown like China, which has shut down entire cities and confined residents to their homes, nor does it have much to do with a fragile economy. Can’t afford to do so at risk of trauma. Hong Min, analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Even as he called for stronger preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, Kim also stressed that the country’s economic goals must be met, Which means huge groups will continue to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
North Korea’s claim of a perfect record of keeping the virus at bay for 2 1/2 years was widely doubted. But its extremely strict border closures, mass quarantines and propaganda that emphasize anti-virus control as a matter of “national survival” may have prevented a larger outbreak so far.
Experts are mixed on whether the North’s announcement of the outbreak communicates a desire to get outside help.
The country had discarded millions of doses offered by the United Nations-backed COVAX delivery program, possibly because of concerns over international monitoring requirements associated with those shots.
North Korea has a greater tolerance of civilian suffering than most other countries, and some experts say the country accepts a certain level of death to gain immunity through infection rather than receive vaccines and other external aid. may be ready to.
South Korea’s new conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office on TuesdayThe U.S. has offered to send vaccines and other medical supplies to North Korea, but officials in Seoul say the North has so far not made any requests for help. Relations between rival Korea have deteriorated since 2019 after the derailment of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
However, Kim’s own officials have been told to learn from China’s experience that the North may soon request COVID-19-related medicine and testing equipment from China, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute. said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that Beijing was ready to offer North Korea’s help, but said it was not aware of any such request.
North Korea’s viral spread could have accelerated after thousands of civilians and soldiers gathered for a massive military parade in Pyongyang on April 25.where Kim took the center stage and showcased the most powerful missiles of his military nuclear program.
After maintaining one of the world’s strictest border closures for two years to salvage its deteriorating health care system, North Korea reopened rail freight traffic with China in January apparently to help its To reduce stress on the economy. China confirms road closure Last month when it fought the outbreak of COVID-19 in the border areas.
Hours after the North admitted its first COVID-19 infection on Thursday, South Korea’s military detected the North test-firing of three ballistic missiles What appeared to be a blatant display of power.
Kim is accelerating his weapons display in 2022, including the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years. Experts say Kim’s dogma is aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate the removal of US-led sanctions and other concessions from a stronger position.
South Korean and US officials also say the North is possibly preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017, which they say could happen as early as this month.