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COVID: North Korea welcomes recovery, WHO worries about missing data

Seoul, South Korea –

North Korea said on Wednesday that more than a million people have already recovered from suspected COVID-19, just a week after announcing an outbreak it appears to be trying to manage in isolation, as global experts expressed deep concerns about the threat to the express public health.

The country’s anti-virus headquarters announced 232,880 new cases of fever and another six deaths in state media on Wednesday. Those numbers bring the total to 62 deaths and more than 1.7 million cases of fever since late April. It said at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.

Outside experts believe most fevers are COVID-19, but North Korea lacks testing to confirm so many. The outbreak is almost certainly bigger than the fever count, as some virus carriers may not develop a fever or other symptoms.

It’s also unclear how more than a million people have recovered so quickly when there is limited medicine, medical equipment and healthcare facilities to treat the country’s impoverished, unvaccinated population of 26 million. Some experts say the North could simply release people from quarantine after their fevers have subsided.

Globally, COVID-19 has killed about 6.3 million people, although the true number is believed to be much higher. Countries with outbreaks similar in size to North Korea’s official fever count have each confirmed thousands of deaths.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday North Korea had not responded to requests for more data on its outbreak.

Before North Korea first acknowledged COVID-19 infections last week, it had stuck to a widely-disputed claim of keeping the virus out. It has also shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because of the international surveillance requirements involved.

North Korea and Eritrea are the only sovereign UN member countries that have not imported vaccines, but Tedros said neither country has responded to WHO offers of vaccines, medicines, testing and technical assistance.

“The WHO is deeply concerned about the risk of further spread in (North Korea),” Tedros said, also noting that the country has a worrying number of people with underlying medical conditions that make them more likely to contract severe COVID-19.

dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s chief for emergencies, said uncontrolled transmission of the virus could lead to new variants, but WHO was powerless if countries didn’t accept its help.

The North 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 emerge from the crisis on its own during a meeting of the ruling party’s politburo on Tuesday, with politburo members discussing ways to “continuously maintain the good odds across the epidemic prevention front,” according to the official Korean headquarters This was announced by the news agency on Wednesday.

There are suspicions that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow to Kim, who has already weathered the toughest moment of his decade in power. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already crushed by mismanagement and US-led sanctions over Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

At the Politburo meeting, Kim criticized officials for their early response to the pandemic, which he said underscored “the immaturity of the state’s capacity to deal with the crisis,” and he blamed their “non-positive attitude, neglect, and inaction” for the vulnerability responsible for the country. said KCNA.

He urged officials to step up virus controls at workplaces and redouble efforts to improve supplies of daily necessities and stabilize living conditions, the report said.

North Korea has also deployed nearly 3,000 military doctors to help deliver medicines to pharmacies and deployed public health officials, teachers and students studying healthcare to identify people with fevers so they can be quarantined. The country has relied on finding people with symptoms and isolating them in emergency shelters due to a lack of vaccines, high-tech medicines and equipment, and intensive care units that have lowered hospital admissions and deaths in other countries.

While sounding the alarm about the outbreak, Kim has also stressed that his economic goals should be met. State media reports show that large groups of workers continue to gather at farms, mines, power plants and construction sites to ensure their work is “moving forward as planned”.

The COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea came amid a provocative series of arms demonstrations, including the first test of an ICBM in almost five years, in a risky move aimed at forcing the United States to embrace the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power accept and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

US and South Korean officials also believe North Korea could conduct its seventh nuclear test this month.

Kim reiterated during Tuesday’s meeting that he will “reawaken the whole party like (an) active volcano under the state emergency situation” to prove its leadership before history and time and “imperatively defend the good of the country and the people.” and demonstrate.” around the world once again the strength and spirit of heroic Korea,” said KCNA. The report contained no direct reference to a major weapons test.

Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site shows renovation work and preparations at a still unused tunnel in the southern part of the site, believed to be nearing completion, to conduct a nuclear test, according to an analysis published Tuesday by Beyond Parallel, a website run by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.


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