North Korea says it has found nearly 220,000 more people with fever symptoms, though leader Kim Jong Un says it has made progress in slowing a largely undiagnosed spread of COVID-19 in its unvaccinated population. .
The outbreak has raised concerns of grave tragedies in this impoverished and isolated country with one of the worst health care systems in the world and a high tolerance for civilian suffering.
Experts say North Korea is almost certainly downplaying the true scale of the virus spread, including a suspiciously low death toll, to soften the political blow to Kim as he navigates the toughest time in his decade of reign.
About 219,030 North Koreans with fever were identified in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. Friday, the fifth consecutive daily increase of about 200,000, according to the Central News Agency, which attributed the report to the headquarters. government antivirus.
North Korea said more than 2.4 million people have fallen ill and 66 people have died since an unidentified fever began spreading rapidly in late April, although the country could only identify a handful of those cases as COVID-19 due to a lack of testing supplies.
After supporting for two and a half years a dubious claim that it had perfectly blocked the virus from entering its territory, the North acknowledged infections with Omicron last week.
Kim ‘could conduct weapons tests’ during Biden’s visit to South Korea
Amid a lack of public health tools, the North has mobilized more than a million health workers to find people with fevers and isolate them in quarantine facilities.
Kim also imposed strict restrictions on movement between cities and towns and mobilized thousands of troops to help transport medicines to pharmacies in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, which has been the center of the outbreak.
At a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Saturday, Kim also appeared to hint at easing his pandemic response to ease his economic woes, asking officials to actively modify the country’s preventative measures based on the evolution of the viral situation and to propose various plans to revitalize the national economy.
Experts say Kim cannot afford to bring the country to a standstill, which would trigger an additional shock to a fragile economy, strained by decades of mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions against his ambitions on nuclear weapons and the closing of borders in the event of a pandemic.
North Korea’s optimistic portrayal of its response to the pandemic contrasts sharply with outside concerns about dire consequences, including deaths of up to tens of thousands of people.
North Korea’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak came amid a series of weapons tests, including the country’s first demonstration of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March, as Kim is pushing a tightrope aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as nuclear power and to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
Economic challenges and the COVID-19 crisis are unlikely to slow down his lobbying campaign. US and South Korean officials have said it is possible the North could conduct another missile or nuclear explosive 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 crippling US-led sanctions in return for disarmament moves by the North.