Seoul, South Korea –
North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more suspected COVID-19 cases as its pandemic case count neared nearly 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and struggled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.
The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating any further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported as the country lacks virus testing and other health resources and deaths may be underreported to reflect the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim To mitigate Jong Un.
North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters reported a single additional death, bringing the death toll to 63, which experts say is unusually low compared to the suspected number of coronavirus infections.
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have contracted the fever since the end of April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, although few infections with Omicron variants have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.
North Korea’s breakout comes amid a provocative spate of arms demonstrations, including the first test of an ICBM in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t think the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to embrace the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Thursday that North Korea has all but completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test that would be its seventh overall and first since 2017, and only has to decide when it will happen, lawmakers said participated in the closed investigation. door meeting.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday that US intelligence shows there is a “real possibility” that North Korea may conduct another ballistic missile test or nuclear test in connection with President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan will conduct, which begins later this week.
After maintaining dubious claims that it kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea admitted its first COVID-19 infections on May 12 and has since described a rapid spread. Kim has described the outbreak as a “major upheaval,” berating officials for allowing the virus to spread and restricting the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.
Workers were mobilized to find people suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms, who were then sent to quarantine — the main way to contain the outbreak as North Korea lacks medical supplies and intensive care units, which is causing the hospitalizations and deaths from COVID -19 lowered in other countries.
Images released by state media showed health workers in hazmat suits patrolling Pyongyang’s cordoned-off streets, disinfecting buildings and streets, and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.
Despite the large number of sick people and efforts to contain the outbreak, state media describe large groups of workers continuing to congregate at farms, mining plants, power plants and construction sites. Experts say North Korea can’t afford a lockdown that would hamper production in an economy already fractured by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.
North Korea also urgently needs to work to protect its crops from a drought that has hit during the crucial rice-growing season – a worrying development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity. State media also said Kim’s trophy-building projects, including the construction of 10,000 new homes in Hwasong town, were “moving forward as planned.”
“All sectors of the national economy are increasing production to the maximum while strictly complying with the anti-epidemic measures taken by the Party and the state,” reported the Korean Central News Agency.
Virus controls at workplaces include segregating workers according to their job classification and quarantining worker units at construction sites and in key metal, chemical, electric power and coal industries, KCNA said.
While North Korea says more than 1.2 million people have already recovered, it’s clear officials are simply releasing people from emergency shelters or other quarantine facilities like schools after their fevers have subsided, according to South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung, who the information attributed to the spy agency briefing. Although there may be a shortage of medical equipment in the north, there appear to be enough thermometers to check temperatures, which are likely to be imported from China, Ha said.
Kee Park, a global health specialist at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health projects in North Korea, said the number of new cases in the country should slow due to the increased preventive measures.
But treating the already large number of people with COVID-19 will be a challenge for North Korea. Given the size of the caseload, deaths could potentially approach tens of thousands, and international help would be crucial, Park said.
“The best way to prevent these deaths is treatment with antivirals like Paxlovid,” which would significantly reduce the risk of serious illness or death, Park said. “This is much quicker and easier to do than sending ventilators to build capacity in the ICU.”
Other experts say making small numbers of vaccines available to high-risk groups like the elderly would prevent deaths, although mass vaccination for the 26 million population would be impossible at this stage.
However, it is unclear whether North Korea would accept outside help. It has already shunned vaccines being offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program and the nation’s leaders have expressed confidence that the country can weather the crisis on its own.
Kim Tae-hyo, deputy national security adviser to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, told reporters Thursday that North Korea has ignored offers of help from South Korea and the United States to contain the outbreak.
Experts have said North Korea may be more willing to accept help from China, its key ally. The South Korean government has said it cannot confirm media reports that North Korea flew planes this week to bring emergency supplies back from China.
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