North Korea has reported 15 more deaths, suspected to be COVID-19


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea has confirmed 15 more deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional patients with fevers as it mobilizes more than a million health workers and other workers to try to quell the country’s first outbreak of COVID-19, state media reports. . Sunday.

After maintaining the widely contested claim that it is free of the coronavirus for more than two years, North Korea announced Thursday that it had found its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

She said the fever had spread across the country “explosively” since late April but she would not reveal exactly how many cases of COVID-19 have been found. Some experts say North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test a large number of suspected COVID-19 patients.

The additional deaths reported on Sunday brought the number of deaths reported due to fever in the country to 42. The official Korean Central News Agency also reported that another 296,180 people with fever were counted, bringing the total number reported to 820,620.

The outbreak has raised concern about a humanitarian crisis in North Korea because most of the country’s 26 million people are believed to be not immune to the coronavirus and the country’s public health care system has been in disarray for decades. Some experts say North Korea could suffer significant deaths if it does not immediately receive overseas shipments of vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies.

Without COVID-19 test kits, North Korea is turning to body temperature checks to guess infection. “But with such an inferior and imprecise method of screening, it is impossible to find asymptomatic virus carriers and control viral mutations,” said analyst Cheung Seong Chang at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.

“While North Korea’s (suspected) COVID-19 infections are increasing explosively, the death toll is expected to continue to rise,” Cheung added.

Since Thursday, North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to combat the virus. Observers say that could further strain the country’s fragile economy, which has suffered in recent years due to a sharp decline in foreign trade due to the pandemic-related border closures, punishing UN economic sanctions over its nuclear program and mismanagement.

During a meeting on the outbreak on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described the outbreak as a historical “big disruption” and called for unity between the government and the people to stabilize the outbreak as quickly as possible.

On Sunday, the Korean Central News Agency said that more than 1.3 million people took part in work to screen and treat patients and raise public awareness of hygiene. She added that all those with fever and others with abnormal symptoms are subject to quarantine and treated. The increased response to the pandemic includes the establishment of more quarantine facilities, the urgent transfer of medical supplies to hospitals and an increase in disinfection efforts, the agency said.

The agency said: “All provinces, cities and governorates in the country have been completely closed, work units, production units and residential units have been closed to each other since the morning of May 12, and strict and intensive examinations are currently being conducted for all people.” .

Among those infected with symptoms have recovered, while 324,455 people were receiving treatment as of Saturday, the Korean Central News Agency reported, citing the country’s Emergency Center for Epidemic Prevention.

According to official media reports, Kim and other senior North Korean officials are donating their own reserve medicine to support the country’s epidemic fight. During Saturday’s meeting, Kim expressed optimism that the country could control the outbreak, saying that most transmissions occur within communities that are isolated from one another and do not spread from one region to another.

Despite the outbreak, Kim has ordered officials to go ahead with planned economic, construction and other government projects, which indicates that authorities are not asking people to confine themselves to their homes. Hours after admitting the outbreak of the virus on Thursday, North Korea launched ballistic missiles toward the sea in a continuation of its recent series of weapons tests.

On Saturday, Kim, accompanied by senior deputies, visited a mourning station set up for senior official Yang Hyung Seop, who died the previous day, to express his condolences and meet grieving relatives, the agency said. On Sunday, the Korean Central News Agency said officials and workers in the northeast are launching initiatives to prevent the expected spring drought from harming crop yields and quality.

South Korea and China have offered to send vaccines, medical supplies, and other aid shipments to North Korea, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to the initiatives. North Korea previously rejected millions of doses of vaccines provided by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program amid speculation that it was concerned about possible side effects of the vaccines or international monitoring requirements linked to those shots.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the United States supports international aid efforts but does not plan to share vaccine supplies with North Korea. The virus outbreak in North Korea may remain a major topic of discussion when President Joe Biden visits Seoul later this week for a summit with newly inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol.

Former South Korean spy chief Park Ji-won wrote on Facebook Friday that he proposed in May 2021 as the director of the National Intelligence Service that Washington send 60 million doses of vaccines to North Korea as humanitarian aid via COVAX. He said there were subsequent talks at the United Nations and the Vatican about shipping 60 million doses to North Korea as well, but that assistance never materialized because no official offers were made to North Korea.

Park said he hoped North Korea would quickly accept Yoon’s offers of assistance, although he said he doubted whether North Korea would do so.

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