COVID-19: North Korea claims no new fever cases amid data doubts

North Korea on Saturday reported no new fever cases for the first time since it abruptly acknowledged its first domestic outbreak of COVID-19 and subject its 26 million people to more draconian restrictions. in the May.

There have been many external doubts about the accuracy of North Korea’s statistics because the country’s reported death rate is so low and daily fever cases have fallen so rapidly recently. . Some experts say North Korea has likely manipulated the scale of illness and death to help leader Kim Jong Un maintain absolute control amid growing economic hardship.

Through state media, the North’s emergency anti-epidemic center said it had not found a fever patient in the most recent 24 hours. It says its total caseloads are around 4.8 million and about 99.99% of them have fully recovered. The country’s death toll remains at 74, the mortality rate is 0.0016%, which is the lowest in the world if true.

Although no cases have been declared, it remains unclear whether North Korea will officially declare victory over COVID-19 and lift pandemic-related measures by the end of the year like many other countries during the year. today or not, because experts say the country could face an outbreak again later this year like many other countries. Recently, North Korea’s state media have repeatedly said that it is strengthening and upgrading its anti-epidemic systems to guard against the coronavirus sub-virus and other diseases such as monkeypox that are occurring. in other countries.

“The organizational strength and unique solidarity of (North Korea) society are fully demonstrated in the struggle to bring about victory in the emergency anti-epidemic campaign by fully implementing the anti-epidemic policies of the DPRK.” party and state,” the official Korean Central News Agency said on Saturday.

North Korea claims no case remains of symbolic significance in its efforts to build Kim’s image as a leader that has brought the outbreak under control much more quickly than other countries. According to observers, Kim will need such information to garner public support to overcome the economic hardships caused by pandemic-related border closures, United Nations sanctions, and more. United Nations and his mismanagement.

Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website specializing in health, said: “In North Korea, public health care and politics are inseparable, and that aspect has been exposed. revealed again during the COVID-19 outbreak.” problems in North Korea. “Since they started with manipulated data, now they are putting an end to the outbreak with manipulated data.”

No cases are widely expected as North Korea’s daily number of fever cases has been dwindling in recent days – there were three cases reported on Friday and 11 on Thursday – from a peak of around 400,000 one day in May. The country, which lacks test kits, has identified only a fraction of its 4.8 million fever patients as confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Previously, many outside experts feared the outbreak in the North would have serious consequences as most people here are believed to be unvaccinated and about 40% are reported to be undernourished. But for now, activists and defectors with ties to North Korea say they have not heard of anything like a humanitarian disaster unfolding in North Korea.

In a sign of the outbreak easing, North Korea last week held large maskless public events in the capital Pyongyang, where thousands of Korean War veterans and others gathered. gathered from around the country to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 war. During a celebration, Kim hugged and exchanged handshakes with several veterans before he posed for group photos with other participants. No one was wearing a mask, according to photos on state media.

Shin Young-jeon, a professor of preventive medicine at Hanyang University in Seoul, said North Korea will know that having no cases does not mean the country has no COVID-19 patients because there may be cases. no symptoms. He said North Korea likely won’t announce it has officially passed the pandemic anytime soon because of concerns about a resurgence of the outbreak.

“North Korea’s state media have used the expression as if they are winning the war against the virus. The only other expression they can use right now is to claim that the coronavirus has been eliminated. completely removed from his territory,” Shin said. “But if new cases appear again, North Korea will be very embarrassed.”

The only way for North Korea’s new virus to spread from abroad could be China, its main ally with a long and porous border with the country, and North Korea will likely have a hard time getting rid of the virus. declare victory over the pandemic until China does, Lee said. Yo Han, professor at Ajou University School of Public Health in Korea.

The North Korea-China border has been closed for more than two and a half years, except for a few months when it reopened earlier this year.

Some observers say North Korea’s accelerated pandemic response has provided Kim with a tool to promote his authoritarian rule amid public complaints about lingering restrictions. They say North Korea may report a small number of fever cases again in the coming days.

Foreign experts struggle to assess the true death toll in North Korea with authority. They note that North Korea’s lack of testing kits will also make it virtually impossible for the country to determine whether elderly people or others with underlying illnesses have died from COVID-19 or something else.

Shin, a university professor, stood by his earlier research predicting that North Korea would likely suffer 100,000-150,000 deaths. He said he used South Korean data showing that the death rate of unvaccinated people for the omicron variant, which the outbreak acknowledged by North Korea in May, was 0.6 percent.

Other experts say the maximum North Korean death toll would be several thousand. They said the larger deaths would have been detected by North Korean monitoring groups.

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