North Korea is spreading COVID-19 faster

SEOUL — North Korea reported a dramatic spike in suspected coronavirus infections and deaths as North Korea struggled to contain the first reported outbreak on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said could be “the biggest crisis since the country’s founding.”

According to state media, 174,400 people have symptoms such as fever due to COVID-19, a nearly tenfold increase from the 18,000 reported on Friday. It also said that 21 more people died related to the outbreak, bringing the total to 27. However, the report did not reveal how many new infections or deaths were clearly linked to COVID-19 through testing.

Jeong Seong-chang, director of the Institute for North Korean Studies at King Sejong Institute, said, “North Korea is reporting only ‘fever’ because it lacks diagnostic kits.” “Some of the people who have a fever may not actually be sick, but there may be a lot more cases in asymptomatic people who do not have a fever. Therefore, the actual number of infections will be higher than the number announced by North Korea,” he said.

North Korean health officials said at a high-level meeting on Saturday that most of the newly reported deaths were attributable to “drug overdose and other negligence resulting from a lack of knowledge about scientific treatment.” At the meeting that day, Chairman Kim criticized the health authorities of the Workers’ Party of Korea for being “incompetent” and “irresponsible,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korea admitted on Thursday that the outbreak began at the end of April after claiming no cases of COVID-19 for years and refusing humanitarian aid offers. Since the end of last month, there have been 524,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Korea. State media said on Saturday that 243,630 people had fully recovered and 280,810 were still in quarantine.

Health experts have long expressed concern about North Korea’s ability to fight a major coronavirus outbreak because of its poor public health system and low vaccination rates. The international health organization and the South Korean government have said they are ready to provide vaccines, therapeutics and other assistance if the DPRK requests it.

State media did not indicate on Saturday whether North Korea would consider accepting such assistance, but they suggested a malfunctioning public health system.

Chairman Kim was quoted as telling health officials to learn from “advanced countries’ quarantine policies, achievements and experiences,” especially “the rich epidemiologic achievements and experiences of the Chinese Communist Party and its people.”

North Korea appeared to be following the extreme coronavirus restrictions of its ally, China, when it declared a “maximum state of emergency” this week and imposed lockdowns in all cities and counties with a population of 25 million. It also ordered that “each work unit, production unit, and residential unit be isolated from each other.”

The government said it was exploring ways to mobilize “all national means and resources” to provide patients with the medicine they need.

At a meeting on Saturday, Kim said that North Korea is not seeing “the uncontrollable spread of the virus between regions,” but only infections within closed areas and units. He also said that most of the symptoms reported were mild.

“The spread of a malicious virus may be the biggest crisis since the founding of the country, but it can be overcome if the Labor Party and the people unite,” the state-run media reported. report.

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