North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated officials for delays in its pandemic response and mobilised the country’s military to fight the nationwide coronavirus outbreak that is posing one of the toughest challenges to his rule.
For the first time since the pandemic began sweeping the world in early 2020, Pyongyang admitted last week that the country is facing an “explosive” spread of the virus, a concerning development for the largely unvaccinated country.
North Korea’s Central News Agency reported yesterday that more than 1.2 million people fell ill with “fever”, of which 50 people have died since late April.
Experts noted that North Korean authorities appear to use the word “fever” as a euphemism for Covid-19 as they likely lack the capacity for proper diagnosis due to a shortage of test kits.
Lacking medical resources, the country of 25 million people appears to be handling the surging number of patients by mostly just isolating them.
More than 560,000 people with “fever” in North Korea are in quarantine, state media said yesterday.
Since North Korea reported its first official Covid case last Thursday, Mr Kim locked down the country and ordered officials to “absolutely curb the spread of the malicious virus”, but his public health orders have not been followed by officials, he said on Sunday.
“He strongly criticised the cabinet and public health sector for their irresponsible work attitude, and organising and executing ability,” the KCNA reported yesterday.
During Sunday’s emergency Politburo meeting, Mr Kim condemned the slow speed of medicine distribution to local pharmacies.
He also ordered the national army’s medical unit to help stabilise medicine supply.
After the meeting, Mr Kim made visits to pharmacies in Pyongyang and lamented their “poor situation”, that even lacked proper medicine storage.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, Pyongyang maintained a “zero Covid” policy that included stringent quarantine measures and a closed border, which might have allowed the country to avoid a major outbreak but caused health and food crises.
Outside experts have long doubted North Korea’s claims that the country is free from the coronavirus.
Just weeks before announcing its first official case, North Korea held a massive military parade in Pyongyang that gathered about 20,000 people, in what experts said could have been a super-spreader event.
North Korea has already rebuffed offers of millions of vaccine doses by the United Nations-based Covax distribution programme, likely due to concerns about accepting monitoring personnel into the country.
North Korea has not yet responded to offers of coronavirus aid from its rival South Korea, Seoul’s Unification Ministry reported yesterday.
The ministry said Seoul is willing to provide the North with resources such as vaccines, medicines, face masks and diagnostic kits, and also share best practices for pandemic response.
Oh Myoung-don, an infectious diseases expert at Seoul National University, said the coronavirus epidemic in North Korea appears to have started a month ago and it might be too late to be resolved with a vaccine roll-out. (© Washington Post)
© Washington Post