North Korea said on Friday that nearly 10 percent of its 26 million people have fallen ill and 65 people have died amid its first outbreak of COVID-19, as outside experts question the validity of the reported deaths and worry about a possible humanitarian crisis.
After admitting to the Omicron outbreak last week after more than two years of claiming to be coronavirus-free, North Korea has said an unidentified fever has been spreading explosively across the country since late April. Since then, his anti-epidemic center has published fever counts every morning through state media, but they do not include any figures for COVID-19.
“It is true that there has been a hole in their two and a half years of fighting the pandemic,” said Kwak Gil Sup, director of One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korea affairs. “But there is a saying that North Korea is a ‘theatre state’ and I think they are manipulating the COVID-19 statistics.”
Kwak said North Korea is likely in part using the outbreak as a propaganda tool to show that it is overcoming the pandemic under Kim’s leadership. But the country has “a Plan B” and “a Plan C” to seek Chinese and foreign help if the pandemic gets out of control, he said.
On Friday, North Korea’s state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters said 263,370 more people had feverish symptoms and two more people died, bringing the total number of fever cases to 2.24 million and deaths to 65. They said 754,810 people remain in quarantine, according to the official Korean Central News. Agency.
The outbreak likely originated from an April 25 military parade in Pyongyang that Kim organized to show off his new missiles and loyal troops. The parade and related festivals, which marked the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean military, attracted tens of thousands of people and soldiers from Pyongyang and other parts of the country, who returned home after the events.
South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Thursday that “a considerable number” of North Korea’s reported fever cases include people sick with waterborne illnesses such as measles, typhoid and whooping cough.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) assessed that such diseases had already been spreading across North Korea even before COVID-19 broke out, according to Ha Tae-keung, a lawmaker who attended a session. NIS private information.
Ha quoted the NIS as saying that waterborne diseases were spreading due to shortages of medicine and medical supplies in the wake of the North’s previous long-running anti-pandemic measures.
Unclear true numbers
The NIS “said it doesn’t know exactly what percentage of fever cases are coronavirus patients. It said North Korea lacks coronavirus diagnostic kits but seems to have enough thermometers,” Ha said.
The NIS has a spotty record in confirming developments in North Korea. Some civilian medical experts previously said they believed most of North Korea’s reported fever cases were from COVID-19.
Earlier this week, a health official said on state television that the government had detected 168 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, when fever cases in the country already exceeded one million. There have been no updates on the North’s virus cases since then.
Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website that focuses on health issues in North Korea, said Pyongyang had likely determined its omicron outbreak would not cause catastrophic deaths, but revealed it to avoid potential public unrest. . He said North Korea’s increased anti-virus measures are intended in part to solidify its control of a public tired of previous restrictions and other hardships.
“North Korea’s pandemic response is not fully staged because people are dying. But it is obvious that the political intentions of their leadership have been added there,” Ahn said. “One day, they will proclaim their victory over COVID-19 in a colorful way.”
North Korea’s public medical system remains in shambles, and experts say the country could suffer massive deaths from the pandemic if it doesn’t receive foreign aid shipments. They say the country’s heightened movement restrictions and quarantine rules may also worsen their food insecurity.
The NIS said that North Korea intends to overcome the pandemic with the help of its main ally, China, according to Ha and Kim Byung-kee, another lawmaker who was briefed by the spy service.
During an anti-virus meeting on Saturday, Kim said his country is facing “great turmoil” and officials need to study how China and other nations have handled the pandemic.
Some media reports said North Korea already sent planes to China to bring in emergency supplies earlier this week, but the South Korean government said it could not confirm the reports.
South Korea said so and the United States offered to send vaccines, drugs and other medical supplies to North Korea, but the North did not respond.