SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has confirmed 15 more deaths and hundreds of thousands more patients with fevers as it mobilizes more than a million healthcare and other workers to attempt to quell the nation’s first COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported. Sunday.
After maintaining a widely disputed claim that there was no coronavirus for more than two years, North Korea announced on Thursday that it had found its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.
He said a fever had spread across the country “explosively” since late April, but did not reveal exactly how many COVID-19 cases he found. Some experts say North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test large numbers of suspected COVID-19 patients.
The additional deaths reported on Sunday brought the fever-related death toll to 42.
The outbreak has raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis in North Korea, as most of the country’s 26 million people are reportedly unvaccinated against the coronavirus and its public health system has been in shambles for decades. Some experts say North Korea could suffer huge deaths if it does not immediately receive outside shipments of vaccines, drugs and other medical supplies.
“Without COVID-19 test kits, North Korea is resorting to body temperature checks to guess at infections. But with such an inferior and imprecise examination method, it is impossible to find asymptomatic virus carriers and control virus outbreaks,” said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of South Korea’s Sejong Institute.
“As North Korea’s (presumed) COVID-19 infections increase explosively, its death toll is expected to continue to rise,” Cheong added.
Since Thursday, North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to fight the virus. This could further strain the country’s fragile economy, which has suffered in recent years due to the sharp reduction in foreign trade caused by pandemic-related border closures, punishing UN economic sanctions on its nuclear program and its own mismanagement, say observers.
At a meeting on the outbreak on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described the outbreak as a historic “great upheaval” and called for unity between the government and the people to stabilize the outbreak on as quickly as possible.
KCNA said on Sunday that more than 1.3 million people have been engaged in work to examine and treat the sick and raise awareness about hygiene. He said all people with fever and others with abnormal symptoms were quarantined and treated. KCNA said the elevated response to the pandemic includes setting up more quarantine facilities, urgent transport of medical supplies to hospitals and increased disinfection efforts.
“All provinces, cities and counties across the country have been totally locked down and work units, production units and residential units closed off from each other since the morning of May 12 and a strict and intensive examination of all people is ongoing,” KCNA said. .
Of those with symptoms, 496,030 have recovered, while as of Saturday 324,4550 were still receiving treatment, KCNA reported, citing the country’s emergency epidemic prevention center.
According to state media, Kim and other senior North Korean officials are donating their private reserve drugs to support the country’s anti-pandemic fight. At Saturday’s meeting, Kim expressed optimism about the country’s ability to bring the outbreak under control, saying most transmissions occur within communities isolated from each other and do not spread from one region. to the other.
Despite the outbreak, Kim ordered officials to press ahead with planned economic, construction and other state projects, a suggestion that authorities are not requiring people to stay home. Hours after admitting its virus outbreak on Thursday, North Korea even fired ballistic missiles out to sea as a continuation of its recent round of weapons tests.
KCNA said Kim, accompanied by senior lawmakers, visited a mourning station set up for senior official Yang Hyong Sop, who died a day earlier, on Saturday to express condolences and meet with bereaved relatives. A separate KCNA dispatch said on Sunday that officials and workers in the northeast were launching initiatives to prevent an expected spring drought from hurting crop yields and quality.
South Korea and China have offered to send vaccines, medical supplies and other aid shipments to North Korea, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to the overtures. North Korea previously refused millions of doses of vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program amid speculation that it was worried about possible side effects from the vaccines or the international monitoring requirements attached to them. injections.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the United States supports international aid efforts but does not plan to share vaccine supplies with the North. The North Korean virus outbreak could still be a major talking point when President Joe Biden travels to Seoul later this week for a summit with new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
Former South Korean spy chief Park Jie-won wrote on Facebook on Friday that he had proposed in May 2021, then director of the National Intelligence Service, that Washington send 60 million doses of vaccines to North Korea as a humanitarian aid through COVAX. He said there were later discussions at the UN and the Vatican about sending 60 million doses to North Korea as well, but such aid was never realized as no formal offer was made. was made to North Korea.
Park said he hoped North Korea would quickly accept offers of help from Yoon, although he doubted the North would.