North Korea reports further increase in suspected COVID-19 cases

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Wednesday reported 232,880 new cases of fever and six more deaths as leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of “immaturity” and “laxity” in handling the pandemic. escalating COVID-19 outbreak ravaging unvaccinated nation.

The country’s antivirus headquarters said 62 people have died and more than 1.7 million have fallen ill amid a rapidly spreading fever since late April. He said more than a million people have recovered but at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.

Outside experts say most illnesses are believed to be COVID-19, though North Korea has only been able to confirm a small number of COVID-19 cases since acknowledging an omicron outbreak last week. last, probably due to insufficient testing capabilities.

A failure to control the outbreak could have disastrous consequences in North Korea, given its failing healthcare system and rejection of internationally offered vaccines that has left a population of 26 million unimmunized.

The outbreak is almost certainly bigger than the fever tally, given the lack of testing and resources to monitor the sick, and it’s also suspected that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow to Kim. , which was already sailing through the toughest moment of its decade. in power. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already shattered by mismanagement and US-led sanctions against Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim, at a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Tuesday, criticized officials for their early response to the pandemic, which he said underscored “the immaturity of the state’s ability to deal with the crisis” and blamed the vulnerability on their “non-positive attitude, laxity and non-activity.”

He urged authorities to tighten virus checks at workplaces and “redouble efforts” to improve the supply of basic necessities and stabilize living conditions, the KCNA said on Wednesday.

Kim’s comments came days after tormenting officials over how they were handling the distribution of drugs from state stockpiles and mobilizing his army to help transport supplies to pharmacies in the capital Pyongyang, which have been open 24 hours a day to deal with the crisis.

Before acknowledging COVID-19 infections last Thursday, North Korea had insisted on a perfect record in preventing the virus from entering nearly every corner of the world, a claim widely doubted. But its extremely strict border closures, large-scale quarantines and propaganda that emphasized virus checks as a matter of “national existence” may have averted a huge outbreak so far.

It is unclear whether the North’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak communicates a willingness to accept outside help. Kim’s government had shunned millions of vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely due to international monitoring requirements attached to them.

It has so far ignored an offer from its South Korean rival to provide vaccines, medicine and health personnel, but experts say the North may be more willing to accept help from its main ally, China. South Korea’s government said it could not confirm media reports that North Korea flew several planes to bring back emergency supplies from China on Tuesday.

At Tuesday’s meeting, North Korean officials continued to express confidence that the country could weather the crisis on its own, with Politburo members discussing ways to “continuously maintain a good chance on the global front of epidemic prevention,” KCNA said.

While Kim was seen wearing masks for the first time following North Korea’s admission of COVID-19 infections last week, state media photos from Tuesday’s meeting showed members of Kim and the Politburo engaging in face-to-face discussions, in a possible expression of trust.

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