North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country’s military to respond to the escalating but largely undiagnosed COVID-19 crisis that has killed 50 people and infected 1.2 million in a matter of days.
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Hundreds of North Koreans have been infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 since the end of April. Kim Jong-un has criticized government health officials for not acting fast enough to slow the spread of the virus in South Korea. China has offered additional aid to Pyongyang to contain the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.
State media have reported that more than 564,860 people are in quarantine due to a fever that has spread rapidly among people around the capital Pyongyang since late April.
The north’s emergency antivirus headquarters said that eight more deaths and 392,920 newly discovered fevers were reported Monday.
StatNorth did not specify how many fevers were confirmed as COVID-19.
North Korea is believed to have insufficient test supplies to confirm large numbers of coronavirus infections and relies mainly on isolating people with symptoms in shelters.
Suppose the virus fails to slow it down. In that case, it could have serious consequences for North Korea, which has a poor healthcare system and a population of 26 million people believed to be unvaccinated and generally malnourished.
Mr. Kim criticized government health officials over what he portrayed as a failed pandemic response; he told a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Sunday, saying drug supplies are not being distributed to pharmacies on time due to their “irresponsible work attitude” and lack of organization, the official Korean central news agency of the north has said.
This is North Korea’s first outbreaNorthCOVID-19 in two and a half years. (AP: Jon Chol Jin)
The Politburo had issued an emergency order to immediately release and swiftly distribute state drug reserves and to open pharmacies for 24-hour shifts. Still, Mr. Kim said such steps were not being followed properly.
According to KCNA, Mr. Kim ordered his army’s medical units to stabilize the supply of drugs in Pyongyang.
After Sunday’s meeting, Mr. Kim and members of the Politburo inspected pharmacies on the spot in a Pyongyang district, where Kim complained that most of the stores were in poor condition and had no storage space.
Mr. Kim also criticized some pharmacists for not wearing proper white robes.
North Korea first acknowledged an outbreak of COVID-19 last Thursday and said an unspecified number of people had tested positive for the Omicron variant.
It instituted a lockdown, and Kim ordered public health officials, teachers, and others to identify people with a fever so they could be quarantined.
North Korea’s claim that it had a perfect track record of keeping the virus out for two-and-a-half years has been widely questioned — but the extremely strict border closures, large-scale quarantines, and propaganda that emphasized antivirus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have prevented a massive outbreak so far.
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South Korea and China offer help to contain the outbreak.
It is unclear whether North Korea’s urgent messages about the outbreak indicate a willingness to receive outside aid.
The country shunned millions of vaccine doses offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because they had international monitoring requirements.
On Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told parliament the country was willing to send vaccines, drugs, equipment, and health personnel to North Korea if it was willing to accept them.
South Korean officials say Pyongyang has not requested help from Seoul.
Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated since 2019 after larger negotiations between the US and North Korea failed over disagreements over the North’s nuclear arsenal and US-led sanctions.
Kim pNorth’sly praised China’s pandemic response and urged its officials to learn from it, which may indicate that North Korea is more willing to accept help from its key ally.
Last week, Chinese officials said Beijing was ready to assist but had no information about such a request.
Despite calls for cities and counties to shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, Mr. Kim also stressed the need to meet the country’s economic goals, which likely means large groups will continue to gather on agricultural, industrial, and construction sites.
As he accelerated his missile tests to press Washington for economic and security concessions, Mr. Kim struggled with domestic challenges and a pandemic-shattered economy, propelling him into arguably the most difficult moment of his decade in power.
In recent weeks, state media has focused on agricultural campaigns to protect crops during a drought during the rice planting season – a worrying development in a country with chronic food shortages.
Mr. Kim also plans to achieve his goals in a five-year national development plan announced in early 2021 after showing unusual honesty in acknowledging that his previous economic projects were not working.
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