North Korea hails recovery as WHO worries about missing data

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Wednesday more than a million people have already recovered from suspected COVID-19 just a week after revealing an outbreak it appears to be trying manage in isolation as global experts express deep concern over public health threat.

The country’s antivirus headquarters announced 232,880 new fever cases and six more deaths in state media on Wednesday. These figures bring its total to 62 deaths and more than 1.7 million cases of fever since the end of April. He said at least 691,170 people remain in quarantine.

Outside experts believe most fevers are linked to COVID-19, but North Korea lacks tests to confirm as many. The outbreak is almost certainly more important than the fever count, as some virus carriers may not develop a fever or other symptoms.

It is also unclear how more than a million people have recovered so quickly when limited medicines, medical equipment and health facilities exist to treat the impoverished and unvaccinated population of 26 million. Some experts say the North might just release people from quarantine after their fevers subside.

Globally, COVID-19 has killed an estimated 6.3 million people, with the true toll being much higher. Countries with outbreaks similar in size to North Korea’s official fever tally have each confirmed thousands of deaths.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that North Korea had failed to respond to his request for more data on its outbreak.

Before acknowledging COVID-19 infections for the first time last week, North Korea had stuck to a widely questioned claim to keep the virus out. It has also shunned millions of vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely due to international monitoring requirements attached to them.

North Korea and Eritrea are the only sovereign UN member countries not to have deployed vaccines, but Tedros said neither country has responded to offers of vaccines, drugs, tests and technical support from WHO.

“WHO is deeply concerned about the risk of spread in (North Korea),” Tedros said, also noting that the country has a worrying number of people with underlying illnesses that make them more susceptible to contracting COVID. -19 severe.

WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan said uncontrolled transmission of the virus could lead to new variants, but the WHO was powerless to act unless countries agreed to its help.

The North has so far ignored its South Korean rival’s offer 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.

North Korean officials at a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Tuesday continued to express confidence that the country could overcome the crisis on its own, with Politburo members discussing ways to “keep continued good chances on the global epidemic prevention front,” the official Korean central office said. The news agency announced on Wednesday.

It is suspected that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow to Kim, who was already going through the toughest time of his decade in office. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already shattered by mismanagement and US-led sanctions against Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

At the Politburo meeting, Kim 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 he blamed the vulnerability country to their “non-positive attitude, laxity and inactivity,” KCNA said.

He urged officials to tighten workplace virus checks and step up efforts to improve the supply of basic necessities and stabilize living conditions, according to the report.

North Korea has also deployed nearly 3,000 military medics to help deliver medicine to pharmacies and deployed public health officials, teachers and health care students to identify people with fevers so they can can be quarantined. The country has relied on finding people with symptoms and isolating them in shelters as it lacks vaccines, medicines and high-tech equipment and intensive care units that have reduced hospitalizations and deaths. deaths in other countries.

While raising alarm over the outbreak, Kim also stressed that his economic goals must be met. State media reports show that large groups of workers continue to gather at farms, mining facilities, power plants and construction sites, pressured to ensure their work is “propelled as planned”.

North Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak has come amid a provocative series of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years, in a precarious situation aimed to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power and to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

US and South Korean officials also believe North Korea could conduct its seventh nuclear test this month.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kim claimed he would “wake up the whole party again as (an) active volcano in the state emergency” to prove his leadership before history and time and ” uphold the welfare of the country and people without fail and demonstrate to the world the strength and spirit of heroic Korea once again,” KCNA said. The report did not directly refer to a major weapons test.

Recent commercial satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test ground show renovations and preparations in a still unused tunnel in the southern part of the site, which is likely nearing completion to accommodate a nuclear test, according to an analysis published Tuesday by Beyond Parallel, a website run by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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