By KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press
SEUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea said on Saturday it found about 220,000 more people with febrile symptoms, though leader Kim Jong Un said progress had been made to curb the spread of largely non-COVID-19 diagnosed in an unvaccinated population of 26 million.
The outbreak has caused concern over serious tragedies in the poor and isolated country with one of the worst health systems in the world and a high tolerance for civilian suffering. Experts say North Korea is almost certainly downplaying the true scale of the viral spread, including a strangely small death toll, to soften the political blow on Kim as she navigates the hardest moment of her decade of rule.
Some 219,030 North Koreans with fever were identified between midnight and 6 a.m. Friday, the fifth consecutive daily increase of about 200,000, according to the North Korean Central News Agency, which attributed the information at the government antivirus headquarters.
North Korea says more than 2.4 million people have fallen ill and 66 people have died since an unidentified fever began to spread rapidly in late April, although the country has only been able to identify a handful of such cases as COVID-19 due to lack of test supplies. After maintaining a dubious claim for 2 and a half years that it had perfectly blocked the virus from entering its territory, the north admitted omicron infections last week.
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Amid a shortage of public health tools, the North has mobilized more than a million health workers to find people with fever and isolate them in quarantine facilities. Kim also imposed strict restrictions on travel between cities and towns and mobilized thousands of soldiers to help with the transportation of medicines to pharmacies in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, which has been the center of the outbreak.
During a Politburo meeting of the ruling party on Saturday, Kim insisted the country was beginning to control the outbreak and called for stronger surveillance to maintain the “affirmative trend” of the anti-virus campaign, KCNA said. But Kim also seemed to hint at his response to the pandemic to alleviate his economic problems, instructing officials to actively modify the country’s preventive measures based on the changing situation of the virus and to draw up various plans to revitalize the national economy. .
KCNA said Politburo members were discussing ways to “more effectively engineer and implement” the government’s anti-virus policy in line with how the virus was being “stably controlled and slowed down,” but the report did not specify what was discussed.
Even while imposing what the state media described as “maximum” preventive measures, Kim has stressed that her economic goals have yet to be met, and the state media has described large groups of workers continuing to meet. on farms, mining facilities, power plants and construction sites.
Experts say Kim can’t afford to stop the country that would trigger a new impact on a fragile economy, strained by decades of mismanagement, paralyzing US-led sanctions for its nuclear weapons ambitions and closures of pandemic borders. State media have portrayed an urgent push for agricultural campaigns to protect crops in the midst of an ongoing drought, a worrying development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity and to complete large-scale housing and other construction projects. which Kim considers crucial to her rule.
The virus has not stopped Kim from celebrating and attending important public events for her leadership. State media showed him crying during the state funeral on Saturday for North Korea’s top military official Hyon Chol Hae, who is believed to have been involved in preparing Kim as a future leader during her father’s government. Kim Jong Il.
North Korea’s optimistic description of its response to the pandemic clearly contrasts with external concerns about the dire consequences, including deaths that could reach tens of thousands. Concerns have risen as the country appears to be trying to manage the crisis in isolation, ignoring aid from South Korea and the United States. The South Korean government has said it could not confirm reports that North Korea had flown planes to retrieve emergency supplies from Allied China this week.
In recent years, the North has avoided millions of doses of vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly due to the international control requirements attached to these injections. WHO and UNICEF have said North Korea has so far failed to respond to requests for virus data or proposals for help, and some experts say the North may be willing to accept a certain level of death toll to gain immunity through infection.
At least some of the North Korean fever cases may be caused by non-COVID-19 diseases, such as waterborne diseases, which South Korean intelligence officials say has become a problem. growing for the North in recent years amid a shortage of medical supplies.
But experts say North Korea’s explosive spread and lack of testing regime to detect large numbers of virus carriers in the early stages of the infection suggest that the country’s COVID-19 crisis is likely to be worse than what their fever numbers represent. The actual death toll from viruses in the country is said to be significantly higher than official figures and the death toll will rise further in the coming weeks given the intervals between infections and deaths.
North Korea’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak came amid a provocative test in weapons testing, including the country’s first demonstration of an intercontinental ballistic missile from 2017 to March, while Kim is pushing for a maneuver aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
The challenges posed by a declining economy and the outbreak of COVID-19 are unlikely to slow down their pressure campaign. U.S. and South Korean officials have said there is a possibility that the North may conduct another ballistic missile test or a nuclear explosives test during or around President Joe Biden’s visits to South Korea and Japan. this week.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than three years over disagreements over how to ease US-led paralytic sanctions in exchange for disarmament measures in the North.
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