N. Korea questions low death toll amid COVID-19 outbreak

Seoul, South Korea –

North Korea said on Friday that nearly 10% of its 26 million people had fallen ill and 65 had died amid its first COVID-19 outbreak, as outside experts questioned the validity of the virus. rates of reported deaths and worries about a possible humanitarian crisis.

After conceding an omicron outbreak last week after more than two years of declaring it free of the coronavirus, North Korea said an unspecified fever had broken out across the country since late April. have since published reports of the fever every morning through the state media, but they do not include any COVID-19 figures.

Some observers have suggested that North Korea is likely to be forced to acknowledge the COVID-19 outbreak because it has been unable to conceal the spread of the virus so strongly among its people that the public may be disgruntled with the leader. leader Kim Jong Un. They believe that the North Korean authorities are underreporting the death rate to try to show that the country’s pandemic response is effective, while the country lacks the test kits to confirm some. large number of viral infections.

“It is true that there has been a hole in the two and a half years of fighting the pandemic,” said Kwak Gil Sup, head of One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korean affairs. “But there’s a saying that North Korea is ‘a country with a theater,’ and I think they’re basing it on the COVID-19 statistics.”

Kwak said North Korea is likely partly using the outbreak as a propaganda tool to show that it is getting through the pandemic with Kim’s leadership. But the country has a “Plan B” and a “Plan C” to seek aid from China and other countries should the pandemic get out of hand, he said.

On Friday, the headquarters of North Korea’s emergency epidemic prevention and control agency said an additional 263,370 people had fever symptoms and two more died, bringing the total number of fever cases to 2.24 million and deaths to 65. They said 754,810 people are still in quarantine. The firm.

The outbreak can be traced back to the April 25 military parade in Pyongyang that Kim organized to show off his new missiles and loyal troops. The military parade and other related festivals, marking the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s army, drew tens of thousands of people and soldiers from Pyongyang and other parts of the country, who returned home. home after events.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers on Thursday that a “significant number” of fever cases reported by North Korea included people with water-borne illnesses such as measles, typhoid and whooping cough.

The National Intelligence Service assessed that these diseases were spreading throughout North Korea even before the outbreak of COVID-19, according to Ha Tae-keung, a lawmaker who attended a private NIS briefing. . Ha cited NIS as saying waterborne diseases were spreading due to shortages of drugs and medical supplies following the North’s previous protracted anti-pandemic steps.

“(NIS) said they don’t know exactly what percentage of fever cases are coronavirus patients. They said North Korea lacks coronavirus diagnostic kits but seems to have enough thermometers,” Ha said.

The NIS has a notable track record in validating developments in North Korea. Some civilian health experts have previously said they believe most of the fever cases announced by North Korea are 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, as the country’s fever cases passed one million. There have been no updates on North’s virus cases since then.

North Korea’s public health system is still in turmoil, and experts say the country could suffer deaths from the pandemic if it does not receive aid shipments from outside. They say the country’s increased restrictions on movement and quarantine could also exacerbate food insecurity.

The NIS said North Korea intends to weather the pandemic with support from its main ally, China, according to Ha and Kim Byung-kee, another lawmaker briefed by the spy agency. During an anti-virus meeting on Saturday, Mr Kim said his country faced “a great upheaval” and that officials had to study how China and other countries have responded to the pandemic. Translate.

Some media reports said North Korea sent planes to China to bring back emergency supplies earlier this week, but the South Korean government said it could not confirm the reports. South Korea says it and the United States have offered to ship vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies to North Korea, but the North has not responded.

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