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The Korean Peninsula

North Korea: COVID caseload nears two million

Published : May 19, 2022 17:09 IST T+T-
Kim Jong Un has maintained his country will be able to tackle the crisis on its own.

Kim Jong Un has maintained his country will be able to tackle the crisis on its own.

North Korea has reported more than 200,000 new illnesses, bringing the total number of suspected cases to 1.98 million.

North Korea is ramping up production of medical supplies amid an unprecedented outbreak of coronavirus, state news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on May 19. The North Korean news outlet reported 262,270 more people with fever symptoms on May 18 and the death of a person on the evening of May 18. However, it did not report the numbers of those who tested positive for COVID. KCNA said at least 740,160 people were in quarantine. This brings the North's suspected COVID tally closer to two million, as the total number of cases currently stands at 1.98 million. At least 63 people have died of illness so far according to state figures.

Concerns over lack of tests and vaccines

North Korea officially reported an outbreak of COVID last week and attributed one of the deaths to the omicron variant of the virus. Health experts say the North does not have enough tests to confirm the number of people infected by the virus. The North has also not responded to offers of aid from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries.

On May 17, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the North had not responded to its request for more data about the outbreak. Tedros added that North Korea and Eritrea were the only sovereign U.N. member countries without a vaccination program and neither had responded to the WHO's offer for vaccines, medicines and tests. Seoul's deputy national security adviser said on May 18 that South Korea and the United States had offered to send help, including aid, but there has been no response from Pyongyang.

Pyongyang resorts to traditional medicines

KCNA reported on May 19 that health authorities were also increasing the production of traditional Korean medicines used to reduce fever and pain since they were "effective in prevention and cure of the malicious disease." The news outlet said that factories had ramped up production of injections, medicines, sterilizers and thermometers in a "lightning way" as more isolation wards were installed around the country.

Kim Jong Un had blasted health officials earlier this week for their "immature" response to the pandemic and slow delivery of medicines. "Thousands of tons of salt were urgently transported to Pyongyang City to produce antiseptic solution," KCNA reported on May 19. State media has also reported that government has encouraged people to use painkillers and resort to unverified home remedies — like gargling salt water or drinking willow leaf tea — to cure themselves.

The North also said earlier this week that a million people had recovered from illness. In spite of a strict lockdown, state media reported that economic activity went on with large groups of people gathering at power facilities and construction sites. U.S. President Joe Biden is set to meet South Korea's new leader this weekend, and they are expected to address the North's nuclear program as well as the COVID outbreak in the country, The Associated Press news agency reported.

rm/kb (Reuters, AP)