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North Korea on Saturday reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 more people with symptoms of fever as the country works to slow the spread of COVID-19 among its unvaccinated population.
The new deaths and cases, which date from Friday, brought the total to 27 fatalities and 524,440 illnesses amid a rapidly spreading fever since late April. North Korea said 243,630 people had recovered and 280,810 remained in quarantine. State media did not specify how many fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 infections.
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The country imposed nationwide shutdowns on Thursday after confirming its first cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. He previously held for more than two years a widely questioned claim of a perfect record preventing the virus which has spread to almost every place in the world.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during an anti-virus strategy meeting on Saturday, described the outbreak as a historic “huge disruption” and called for unity between government and people to stabilize the virus. epidemic as quickly as possible.
Kim expressed optimism about the country’s ability to bring the outbreak under control, saying most transmissions occur within communities isolated from each other and do not spread from region to region. Since Thursday, the country has imposed stricter preventive measures aimed at restricting the movement of people and supplies between cities and counties, but descriptions of the measures by state media indicate that people are not confined to their homes. .
Experts say a failure to control the spread of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences in North Korea, given the country’s poor healthcare system and the fact that its 26 million people are largely not vaccinated.
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Tests of virus samples taken from an unknown number of people with fever in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant, state media said. The country has so far officially confirmed that one death was linked to omicron infection.
Lacking vaccines, antiviral pills, intensive care units and other major health tools to fight the virus, North Korea’s response to the pandemic will mainly consist of isolating people with symptoms in shelters. designated, according to experts.
North Korea does not have the technological and other resources to impose extreme shutdowns like China, which has closed entire cities and confined residents to their homes, nor could it afford to do so at the risk of triggering a shock. further on a fragile economy, said Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Although he called for stricter preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, Kim also stressed that the country’s economic goals must be met, which likely means that huge groups will continue to gather on the streets. agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
It is unusual for isolated North Korea to admit to an outbreak of an infectious disease, let alone one as threatening as COVID-19, as it is intensely proud and sensitive to the outside perception of its “socialist utopia.” self-proclaimed. But experts are mixed about whether the North’s announcement of the outbreak signals a willingness to receive outside help.
The country had avoided millions of doses offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly due to concerns about international monitoring requirements attached to such injections.
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North Korea has a greater tolerance for civilian suffering than most other countries and some experts say the country may be willing to accept a certain level of death to gain immunity through infection, rather than receiving vaccines and other outside help.
South Korea’s new conservative government under President Yoon Suk Yeol, which took office on Tuesday, has offered to send vaccines and other medical supplies to North Korea on humanitarian grounds, but Seoul officials say the North has so far made no request for help.
The viral spread could have been accelerated after around tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers gathered for a massive military parade in Pyongyang on April 25, where Kim took center stage and demonstrated the most powerful of its military nuclear program.
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After maintaining one of the world’s strictest border closures for two years to protect its poor healthcare system, North Korea reopened rail freight traffic with China in February, ostensibly to ease pressure on its economy. But China confirmed the road closure last month as it battles COVID-19 outbreaks in border areas.