SEOUL – North Korea on Saturday reported a dramatic increase in suspected coronavirus infections and deaths as it struggles to control its first reported outbreak, with leader Kim Jong-un saying “this could be the biggest crisis since our nation’s founding.”
State media reported an additional 174,400 people with fever-like symptoms, which could be due to Kovid-19, nearly ten times the jump from the 18,000 such cases reported on Friday. It also killed 21 more people in connection with the outbreak, bringing the country’s total to 27. But the report did not say how many new infections or deaths were linked to Covid-19 through testing.
“North Korea is only reporting ‘people with fever’ because there are not enough test kits,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the North Korean Study Center at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. “Some people with fever may not be actually sick, but asymptomatic people without any fever may have more cases. So the actual number of infected people may be higher than the North declared.”
Most of the recently reported deaths were due to “drug overdoses and other negligence due to lack of knowledge in scientific treatment,” North Korean health officials said at a high-level meeting on Saturday. At the meeting, Mr Kim criticized health officials from the North’s ruling Workers’ Party for “incompetence” and “irresponsibility”, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
After years of stubborn rejection of the Kovid-19 case and its offer of humanitarian aid, North Korea on Thursday acknowledged that the outbreak had begun in late April. The country has reported 524,400 people with covid-like symptoms since the end of last month. State media said Saturday that 243,630 have fully recovered and 280,810 are still in quarantine.
Health experts have long been concerned about its ability to fight major coronavirus outbreaks in the north due to its threadbare public health system and low vaccination rates. The International Health Organization and the South Korean government have said they are ready to send vaccines, therapeutics and other assistance if requested by the North.
State media reported Saturday that the North did not indicate whether it would consider accepting such assistance, but did suggest a poor public health system.
Mr Kim called on health officials to learn from “developed countries’ disease control policies, achievements and experiences”, in particular “the achievements and experiences of the Chinese Communist Party and its people in abundant epidemiology”.
North Korea appeared to be following in the footsteps of its ally China’s extreme cowardly sanctions when it declared a “maximum emergency” this week, ordering the lockdown of all cities and counties in 25 million nations. It also ordered them to “separate each work unit, production unit and residential unit”.
The government says it is studying how to mobilize “all national resources” to help patients get the medicine they need.
At Saturday’s meeting, Mr Kim said North Korea was not seeing “any uncontrolled spread of the virus between regions”, only infections within lock-down zones and units. He also said that most of the reported symptoms were mild.
Mr Kim said the spread of the “malicious virus” could be the biggest crisis in our nation since its inception. Reports.