North Korea says its Covid outbreak is spreading fast


SEOUL — North Korea on Saturday reported a dramatic rise in suspected coronavirus infections and deaths as it struggled to contain its first reported outbreak, which the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said could be “the most great crisis since the founding of our nation”.

State media said 174,400 more people had symptoms, such as fever, that could be due to Covid-19, nearly a tenfold increase from the 18,000 cases reported on Friday. It also said another 21 people had died in connection with the outbreak, bringing the country’s total to 27. But the reports did not specify how many new infections or deaths had been definitively linked to Covid-19 thanks to tests.

“North Korea only reports ‘people with fever’ because it doesn’t have enough test kits,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute. in South Korea. “Some of the people with fever may not be true patients, but there could be many more cases among asymptomatic people without fever. So the actual number of people infected will likely be higher than what the North has announced. »

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Most of the recently reported deaths were caused by “drug overdoses and other negligence caused by a lack of scientific treatment knowledge”, North Korean health officials said at a high-level meeting. Saturday level. At the meeting, Kim criticized health officials from the ruling Workers’ Party in the North for “incompetence” and “irresponsibility”, the Korean Central News Agency said.

After years of insisting it had no cases of Covid-19 and rejecting offers of humanitarian aid, North Korea admitted on Thursday that an outbreak began in late April. The country has reported a total of 524,400 people with Covid-like symptoms since the end of last month. State media said on Saturday that 243,630 people had fully recovered and 280,810 were still in quarantine.

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Health experts have long worried about the North’s ability to fight a major coronavirus outbreak because of its worn-out public health system and low immunization rate. International health organizations and the South Korean government have said they are ready to ship vaccines, therapeutics and other aid if requested by the North.

State media reports on Saturday did not indicate whether the North would consider accepting such aid, but they did suggest a flawed public health system.

Mr. Kim was quoted as telling health officials to learn from the “disease control policies, achievements and experiences of advanced countries,” particularly the “abundant epidemiological achievements and experiences of the Chinese Communist Party and his people”.

North Korea appeared to be following its ally China’s playbook on extreme Covid restrictions when it declared a ‘maximum emergency’ this week, ordering all cities and counties in the country of 25 million people to lock up. He also ordered them to isolate “every work unit, production unit and residential unit from each other”.

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The government said it was studying how to mobilize “all national means and resources” to provide patients with the drugs they need.

At Saturday’s meeting, Kim said North Korea saw “no uncontrollable spread of the virus between regions”, only infections in locked areas and units. He also said most of the symptoms reported were mild.

Mr Kim said that although “the spread of the malicious virus may be the greatest crisis since the founding of our nation”, it could be overcome if the Workers’ Party and the public were “united as one”, according to the state media. reports.


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