North Korea on Wednesday reported 232,880 new cases of fever and another six deaths, as leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of “immaturity” and “carelessness” in dealing with the escalating COVID-19 outbreak that has ravaged the unvaccinated nation.
The country’s anti-virus headquarters said 62 people have died and more than 1.7 million have fallen ill since the end of April due to the rapid spread of the fever. More than a million people were said to have recovered, but at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.
Outside experts say most illnesses would be COVID-19, though North Korea has only been able to confirm a small number of COVID-19 cases since it acknowledged an Omicron outbreak last week, likely due to insufficient testing capabilities.
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A failure to control the outbreak could have dire consequences in North Korea given its broken healthcare system and its rejection of internationally offered vaccines that have left a population of 26 million unvaccinated.
The outbreak is almost certainly bigger than the fever record given the lack of testing and resources to monitor the sick, and there are also suspicions that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow to Kim, who already has navigating the most difficult moment of his decade was in effect. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already crushed by mismanagement and US-led sanctions over Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
Korea’s official North Central News Agency said Kim criticized officials for their early response to the pandemic during a meeting of the ruling party’s political bureau on Tuesday, which he said underscored “the immaturity of the state’s capacity to deal with the crisis” and its vulnerability to it attributed their “incompetence”. positive attitude, negligence and inactivity.”
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He urged officials to step up virus controls at workplaces and make “doubled efforts” to improve supplies of daily necessities and stabilize living conditions, the KCNA said on Wednesday.
Kim’s comments came days after he tore officials about how they were handling the distribution of medicines from government reserves and mobilized his army to help transport the supplies to pharmacies in the capital, Pyongyang, to help deal with the crisis surrounding the clock were open.
Before last Thursday’s acknowledgment of COVID-19 infections, North Korea had insisted on a perfect record in warding off the virus, which has reached almost every corner of the world, a claim that has been widely disputed. But its extremely strict border closures, large-scale quarantines and propaganda emphasizing antivirus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have prevented a major outbreak so far.
It’s unclear if the North’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak reflects a willingness to accept outside help. Kim’s government had shunned millions of vaccinations offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because of the international surveillance requirements involved.
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It has so far ignored offers from rival South Korea to provide vaccines, medicines and health workers, but experts say the North may be more willing to accept help from its main ally China. The South Korean government said it could not confirm media reports that North Korea flew multiple planes to bring emergency supplies back from China on Tuesday.
North Korean officials continued to express confidence in the country’s ability to overcome the crisis on its own during Tuesday’s meeting, with Politburo members discussing ways to “continuously maintain good odds across the epidemic prevention front,” KCNA said.
While Kim wore masks for the first time after North Korea’s admission of COVID-19 infections last week, state media photos from Tuesday’s meeting showed Kim and members of the Politburo bluntly participating in discussions to possibly show confidence.
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