North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload approaches 2 million

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea reported 262,270 more cases of people with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 on Thursday as the pandemic caseload approached 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and made efforts to reduce the number. slow infections, despite a lack of health care resources.

The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from worsening, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported due to scarce virus testing resources and the possibility that North Korea is deliberately reporting too few deaths to mitigate the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong. soften. not.

North Korea’s antivirus headquarters reported a single death in the 24 hours to 6:00 p.m. Wednesday to bring the death toll to 63, which experts say is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of infections.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported that since the end of April, more than 1.98 million people have fallen ill with febrile symptoms, mostly believed to be infections with the ommicron variant of the coronavirus, although the country has seen only a small number of infection cases due to its scarcity. has confirmed. of testing. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reports.

After a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections last Thursday and said tests of an unspecified number of people in the capital Pyongyang showed they were infected with the virus. the ommicron variant.

Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval” and has imposed what the country described as maximum preventive measures that strictly limited the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.

He mobilized more than 1 million workers to find and quarantine people with fevers and other suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Thousands of troops were ordered to help transport medicines in the capital Pyongyang.

State media footage shows health workers in white and orange hazmat suits guarding the city’s closed streets, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.

But large groups of workers continue to gather at farms, mining facilities, power plants and construction sites to boost production as Kim has demanded that economic targets be met, the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Experts have said Kim cannot afford to bring the country to a standstill as doing so would further shock a broken economy damaged by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over his nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.

The country faces urgent pressure to protect crops amid an ongoing drought that hit the country during a pivotal rice planting season, a worrying development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity. North Korean state media also said Kim’s trophy construction projects, including the construction of 10,000 new homes in Hwasong city, are “moving forward as planned.”

“All sectors of the national economy are ramping up production to the maximum while strictly adhering to the epidemic control measures adopted by the party and the state,” the Korean Central News Agency reported, citing the travel restrictions and virus checks in workplaces, including segregating employees into groups based on their job classifications.

The news agency added: “Units are being fairly quarantined on major construction sites where our party’s cherished wish is becoming a reality and in key industrial sectors including metals, chemicals, electricity and coal. And construction and production are steadily accelerating, with priority being given to the anti-epidemic work.”

Kee Park, a global health specialist at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the number of new cases in the country should decrease due to tightened preventive measures.

But it will be challenging for North Korea to provide treatment for the already large number of people living with COVID-19, and the deaths could potentially approach a scale of tens of thousands given the size of the country’s caseload, Park said.

It is unclear whether North Korea’s admission of the outbreak indicates that they are willing to receive outside help. The country has shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because of international monitoring requirements required to receive the vaccines.

Kim Tae-hyo, deputy national security adviser to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, told reporters on Thursday that North Korea has ignored offers of help from South Korea and the US to contain the outbreak.

Experts have said North Korea may be more willing to accept help from China, its main ally.

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