North Korea reports another 15 suspected deaths from COVID-19

North Korea reports another 15 suspected deaths from COVID-19

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

After maintaining a widely disputed claim that it has been free of coronavirus for more than two years, North Korea announced on Thursday that it had found the first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

He said a fever had spread “explosively” across the country since late April, but did not reveal exactly how many cases of COVID-19 he had identified. Some experts say North Korea does not have the diagnostic kits needed to test a large number of suspected COVID-19 patients.

The additional death toll on Sunday raised the number of fever-related deaths to 42. The official Korea Central News Agency also reported another 296,180 people with fever, bringing the total to 820,620.

The outbreak has raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis in North Korea, as more than 26 million people in the country are believed not to have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and its public health care system has been in disrepair for decades. Some experts say North Korea could suffer huge deaths if it did not immediately receive external shipments of vaccines, drugs and other medical supplies.

“Without the COVID-19 test kit, North Korea is resorting to body temperature tests to guess infections. “But with such an inferior and inaccurate test method, it is impossible to find asymptomatic virus carriers and control viral outbreaks,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.

“As North Korea’s (suspected) COVID-19 infections increase exponentially, its death toll is expected to continue to rise,” Cheong added.

As of Thursday, North Korea has imposed a national lockdown on fighting the virus. This could further strain the fragile economy of the country, which has suffered in recent years due to the sharp decline in foreign trade caused by the closure of the border due to a pandemic, punishing the UN financial sanctions for its nuclear program and its own of mismanagement, observers say.

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

The KCNA reported on Sunday that more than 1.3 million people have been involved in examining and treating patients and raising public awareness about hygiene. He said everyone with a fever and others with abnormal symptoms were quarantined and treated. The KCNA said the increased response to the pandemic includes the creation of more quarantine facilities, the urgent transfer of medical supplies to hospitals and increased disinfection efforts.

“All the provinces, cities and counties of the country have been completely excluded and the work units, production units and housing units have been closed to each other since the morning of May 12 and a strict and intensive examination of all people is being carried out,” the KCNA said. . .

Of those with symptoms, 496,030 have recovered, while as of Saturday 324,4550 were still receiving treatment, the KCNA said, citing the country’s emergency epidemic prevention center.

State media reported that Kim and other senior North Korean officials were donating their private backup drugs to support the fight against the country’s pandemic. During Saturday’s meeting, Kim expressed optimism that the country could bring the epidemic under control, saying most transmissions occur in communities that are isolated from each other and do not spread from region to region.

Despite the outbreak, Kim instructed officials to proceed with planned financial, construction and other government projects, a suggestion that the authorities do not require people to be confined to the home. Hours after admitting the virus outbreak on Thursday, North Korea even launched ballistic missiles into the sea, following a recent series of weapons tests.

The KCNA said Kim, accompanied by top lawmakers, visited a mourning site on Saturday for senior official Yang Hyong Sop, who died a day earlier, to express his condolences and meet with the bereaved relatives. A separate KCNA mission said Sunday that officials and workers in the Northeast are launching initiatives to prevent the expected spring drought from damaging crop yields and quality.

South Korea and China have offered to send vaccines, medical supplies and other aid missions to North Korea, but Pyongyang has not responded publicly to the initiatives. North Korea has in the past rejected millions of vaccine doses offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program amid speculation that it was concerned about possible vaccine side effects or international monitoring requirements associated with such downloads.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that the United States has backed international aid efforts but has no plans to share vaccine supplies with the North. The North Korean virus outbreak could still be a major topic of discussion when President Joe Biden visits Seoul later this week for a summit with newly inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Sook Yol.

Former South Korean spy leader Park Jie-won wrote on Facebook on Friday that he had proposed in May 2021 that then-director of the National Intelligence Service send Washington 60 million doses of vaccine to North Korea as humanitarian aid through COVAX. He said there had been talks later at the UN and the Vatican about sending 60 million doses to North Korea as well, but that aid never materialized as no official bids were made in North Korea.

Park said he hoped North Korea would accept Yoon’s bids soon, though he said he doubted North would.

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