North Korea says Covid outbreak is spreading rapidly

SEOUL — North Korea reported a significant increase in suspected coronavirus infections and deaths on Saturday as it struggled to contain the first reported outbreak, which the country’s leader Kim Jong-un said was “the biggest crisis since its founding.” of our country”.

State media said an additional 174,400 people had symptoms, such as fever, that could be due to Covid-19, nearly a tenfold jump from the 18,000 such cases reported Friday. It also said 21 more people had died in connection with the outbreak, bringing the country’s total to 27. But the reports didn’t say how many of the new infections or deaths from testing had been definitively linked to Covid-19.

“North Korea only reports ‘people with a 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 people with a fever may not be real patients, but there could be many more cases among asymptomatic people without a fever, so the actual number of people infected will likely be higher than the north has announced.”

Most of the newly reported deaths were caused by “drug overdoses and other negligence caused by a lack of knowledge about scientific treatment,” North Korean health officials said at a high-level meeting on Saturday. During the meeting, Mr. Kim health officials of the ruling Northern Workers’ Party for “incompetence” and “irresponsibility,” the state-run Korea Central news agency said.

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

Health experts have long raised concerns about the North’s ability to fight a major coronavirus outbreak due to its worn-out public health system and low vaccination rates. International health organizations and the South Korean government have said it is ready to ship vaccines, medicines and other aid if the north asks.

Saturday’s state media reports did not indicate whether the North would accept such aid, but they suggested a malfunctioning public health system.

Mr Kim told health officials to learn from “the disease control policies, achievements and experiences of advanced countries”, especially the “abundant epidemiological achievements and experiences of the Chinese Communist Party and its people”.

North Korea appeared to be following its ally China’s script of extreme Covid restrictions when it declared a “maximum emergency” this week, ordering all cities and provinces in the country of 25 million to shut down. It also ordered them to “isolate from each other every unit of work, unit of production, and unit of living”.

The government said it was exploring how to mobilize “all national resources” to get patients the medicines they need.

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

Mr Kim said that while “the spread of the evil 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,” state media said. reports.

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