Seoul – North Korea has confirmed 15 new deaths and hundreds of thousands of people with fever, state media reported on Sunday, as it mobilized more than a million health and other workers to try to suppress the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak.
North Korea has been claiming no coronavirus for more than two years, a controversial claim, but North Korea announced on Thursday that it had detected its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.
It has since said the fever had “exploded” across the country since late April, but did not disclose exactly how many COVID-19 cases it had detected. North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test large numbers of suspected COVID-19 patients, some experts say.
The new deaths reported on Sunday brought the number of fever-related deaths reported in the country to 42. The official KCNA news agency also reported that another 296,180 people had a fever, bringing the total reported to 820,620.
The outbreak has raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis in North Korea, as most of the country’s 26 million people are believed to have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus and its public health care system has been in disarray for decades. Some experts say North Korea could suffer massive deaths if it does not receive vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies from abroad immediately.
North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to fight the virus since Thursday. Observers say this could further exacerbate the country’s fragile economy, which has suffered in recent years as foreign trade has plummeted due to pandemic-related border closures and UN economic sanctions over its nuclear program and its mismanagement have been punished. hit hard.
At a meeting on the outbreak on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described the outbreak as a “great turmoil” in history and called on the government and people to unite to stabilize the outbreak as soon as possible.
KCNA said on Sunday that more than 1.3 million people have been engaged in examining and treating patients and raising public health awareness. It said all people with fever and others with unusual symptoms were isolated and treated. The KCNA said the strengthening of the response to the pandemic also includes building more isolation facilities, urgently delivering medical supplies to hospitals and intensifying disinfection efforts.
“Since the morning of May 12, all provinces, cities and counties across the country have been in full lockdown, with work units, production units and residential units closed to each other, and strict and intensive inspections are being carried out on everyone,” KCNA said.
Of those with symptoms, 496,030 had recovered, while 324,4550 were still receiving treatment as of Saturday, KCNA said, citing the country’s emergency epidemic prevention center.
State media reported that Kim Jong Un and other senior North Korean officials were donating their private stockpile of medicines to support the country’s fight against the virus. At Saturday’s meeting, King expressed optimism that the country can contain the outbreak, saying that most transmission occurs within communities that are isolated from each other and does not spread from one region to another.
Despite the outbreak, Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to continue planning economic, construction and other state projects, a sign that authorities are not asking people to confine themselves to their homes. North Korea even launched a ballistic missile into the sea in a continuation of its latest string of weapons tests, hours after acknowledging its virus outbreak on Thursday.
Accompanied by senior representatives, Kim Jong-un on Saturday visited a mourning station set up for senior official Yang Heng Sok, who died the previous day, to express his condolences and meet bereaved relatives, KCNA said. A separate release from KCNA said officials and laborers in the northeast were taking steps to prevent the expected spring drought from damaging crop yields and quality.
South Korea and China have offered to send vaccines, medical supplies and other aid to North Korea, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to those offers. North Korea had previously rejected millions of doses of the vaccine from the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, amid speculation it was concerned about possible side effects of the vaccines or international surveillance requirements related to those vaccines.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the United States supports international aid efforts but does not plan to share its vaccine supplies with North Korea. The North Korean virus outbreak is likely to remain a major topic of discussion later this week when President Joe Biden visits Seoul for a summit with newly inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Se-yeol.
Former South Korean spy chief Park Ji-won wrote on Facebook on Friday that he had proposed in May 2021 as then-director of national intelligence that Washington should send 60 million vaccine doses to North Korea as humanitarian aid through COVAX. He said the United Nations and the Vatican later negotiated the delivery of 60 million doses of the vaccine to North Korea, but that aid never materialized because no formal offer was made to North Korea.
Park said he hoped North Korea would accept Yoon’s aid offer soon, although he said he doubted North Korea would do so.
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