Seoul, South Korea ( Associated Press) — North Korea said on Saturday it had found nearly 220,000 more people with fever symptoms, even as leader Kim Jong Un tested positive for COVID in an unvaccinated population of 26 million. Claimed progress in slowing the largely uncontrolled spread of-19.
The outbreak has raised concerns about serious tragedies in the poor, isolated country with one of the world’s worst health care systems and a high tolerance for civilian suffering. Experts say North Korea is almost certainly downplaying the true scale of the viral spread, including the strange death toll, in a bid to soften the political blow on Kim as he undermines his decade of rule. Navigates the most difficult moment.
About 219,030 North Koreans were identified with fever in the 24 hours since 6 p.m. on Friday, according to the North Korean Central News Agency, a direct daily increase of nearly 200,000, which sent the government’s anti-virus headquarters for information. Held responsible.
North Korea said more than 2.4 million people have fallen ill and 66 have died since the rapid outbreak of an unknown fever in late April, although the country has been reporting only a handful of those cases as COVID-19. able to identify. test supplies. After maintaining a dubious claim for 2 1/2 years that it had completely stopped the virus from entering its territory, North admitted to Omicron infections last week.
Amid a shortage of public health equipment, the North has mobilized more than a million health workers to find people with fever and isolate them in quarantine facilities. Kim also imposed strict restrictions on travel between cities and towns and mobilized thousands of troops to help transport the drug in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, which has been the epicenter of the outbreak.
During a meeting of the ruling party’s politburo on Saturday, Kim stressed that the country had begun to bring the outbreak under control and called for strict vigilance to maintain a “positive trend” in the anti-virus campaign, KCNA said. has done. But Kim also hinted at downplaying his pandemic response, directing officials to actively revise the country’s preventive measures based on the changing virus situation and boosting the national economy. Come up with different plans to revive.
The KCNA said members of the Politburo debated ways to “more effectively engineering and implement” the government’s anti-virus policy and how the spread of the virus was being “rigorously controlled and reduced”. But the report did not specify what was discussed.
Even in what state media describes as “maximum” preventive measures, Kim has stressed that his economic goals still need to be met, and state media have criticized farms, mining facilities, power stations And have continued to gather large groups of workers at construction sites.
Experts say Kim can’t afford to bring the country to a standstill, which would further hit a fragile economy, marred by decades of mismanagement, over its nuclear weapons ambitions and the US’s call on pandemic border closures. led to crippling sanctions. State media have drawn an immediate push for agricultural campaigns aimed at protecting crops amid an ongoing drought, a worrying development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity, and massive housing and other construction projects. Kim sees it as important for her to fulfill the rules.
The virus hasn’t stopped Kim from attending important public events for his leadership. State media showed him crying during Saturday’s state funeral for Hyon Chol Hee, North Korea’s top military official, who is believed to have raised Kim as a future leader during the rule of his father, Kim Jong Il. were involved in the preparation.
The optimistic description of North Korea’s response to the pandemic contrasts with outsized concerns about dire consequences, including deaths that could reach thousands. Concerns have risen as the country tries to manage the crisis in isolation, apparently ignoring help from South Korea and the United States. South Korea’s government has said it cannot confirm reports that North Korea flew planes this week to bring back emergency supplies from ally China.
In recent years the North has abandoned the millions of doses of the vaccine offered by the United Nations-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly because of international surveillance requirements associated with those shots. The WHO and UNICEF have said that North Korea has so far been unresponsive to their requests for virus data or offers of help, and some experts say that North Korea may limit a certain level of death to gain through infection. be willing to accept.
It is possible that at least some of North Korea’s fever caseloads stem from non-COVID-19 diseases such as water-borne diseases, which have been reported amid shortages in medical supplies in recent years, according to South Korean intelligence officials. have become a growing problem to answer.
But experts say the explosive speed of North Korea’s spread and the lack of testing systems to detect large numbers of virus carriers in the early stages of infection suggest that the country’s COVID-19 crisis exceeds its fever numbers. is worse. They say the country’s actual virus death toll will be much larger than the official number and that the gap between infections and deaths will increase in the coming weeks.
North Korea’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak in March comes amid a provocative race in weapons tests, including the country’s first demonstration of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, as Kim criticized the United States for accepting the idea. A brinkmanship was put forward with the aim of creating pressure. The North is negotiating economic and security concessions as a nuclear power and from a position of power.
Their pressure campaign is unlikely to be slowed down by the crippling economy and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. US and South Korean officials have said North Korea is likely to conduct another ballistic missile test or nuclear explosive test during or near President Joe Biden’s visits to South Korea and Japan this week.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than three years over disagreements over how to relax US-led sanctions in return for disarmament moves by the North.