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North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 outbreak nears 2 million


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea reported an additional 262,270 suspected COVID-19 cases on Thursday as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and s is working to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.

The country is also trying to keep its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported as the country lacks virus testing and other health care resources and could underreport the deaths to mitigate the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s antivirus headquarters reported just one more death, bringing its toll to 63, which experts say is unusually low compared to the number of suspected coronavirus infections.

The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people had fallen ill with the fever since late April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, although only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.

North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative series of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s strategy to pressure the US into accepting the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions in a strong position.

After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections on May 12.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday that US intelligence shows there is a “real possibility” of North Korea conducting another ballistic missile or nuclear test around President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan which begins later this week.

After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections on May 12 and described a rapid spread since. Kim called the outbreak “a great upheaval,” chastised officials for letting the virus spread and restricting the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.

Workers were mobilized to find people with suspicious symptoms of COVID-19 who were then sent to quarantine – the main method of curbing the outbreak since North Korea lacks medical supplies and intensive care units which have reduced COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths in other countries.

State media footage showed health workers in hazmat suits keeping Pyongyang’s streets closed, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment buildings.

Despite the large number of sick people and efforts to curb the outbreak, state media describes large groups of workers continuing to congregate at farms, mining facilities, power plants and construction sites. Experts say North Korea cannot afford a lockdown that would hamper production in an economy already shattered by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions against Kim’s nuclear ambitions and pandemic border closures .

North Korea must also make an urgent effort to protect its crops from the drought that hit during the crucial rice planting season – a worrying development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity. State media also said Kim’s trophy construction projects, including the construction of 10,000 new homes in Hwasong town, were “propelled as planned”.

“All sectors of the national economy are ramping up production to the maximum while strictly abiding by party and state anti-epidemic measures,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Workplace virus controls include segregation of workers based on their occupational classification and quarantine of worker units at construction sites and in its major industries of metal, chemical, electrical and coal, KCNA said.

Kee Park, a global health specialist at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the number of new cases in the country should start to slow due to the strengthening of preventive measures. .

But it will be difficult for North Korea to provide treatment for the already high number of people with COVID-19. Deaths could approach tens of thousands, given the size of his caseload, and international help would be crucial, Park said.

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 outbreak nears 2 million
An employee of Songyo Knitwear Factory in Songyo District disinfects the workplace in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, after Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday his party would deal with the outbreak in the country in the framework of the state of emergency. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

“The best way to prevent these deaths is to treat with antivirals like Paxlovid,” which would significantly reduce the risk of serious illness or death, Park said. “It’s much faster and easier to implement than sending ventilators to boost critical care capacity.”

Other experts say providing a small number of vaccines to high-risk groups such as the elderly would prevent deaths, although mass vaccinations are impossible at this stage for the population of 26 million. ‘inhabitants.

It is unclear, however, whether North Korea would accept outside help. He has already shunned vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, and the country’s leaders have expressed confidence that the country can overcome the crisis on its own.

Kim Tae-hyo, deputy national security adviser to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, told reporters on Thursday that North Korea had ignored offers of help from South Korea and the United States to contain the outbreak. ‘epidemic.

Experts have said North Korea may be more willing to accept help from China, its main ally. The South Korean government said it could not confirm media reports that North Korea had flown planes to bring back emergency supplies from China this week.



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