North Korea reports 8 dead, Kim Jong-un laments virus response

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea reported eight new deaths and another 392,920 with fever amid a growing COVID-19 outbreak on Monday, as leader Kim Jong Un slammed officials for delaying drug deliveries and complaining Ordered his military to participate in the pandemic response in the country’s capital, Pyongyang.

North Korea’s emergency anti-virus headquarters said that since late April, more than 1.2 million people have fallen ill due to a rapidly spreading fever, and some 564,860 are currently under quarantine. Eight new deaths were reported in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. Sunday, bringing the death toll to 50. State media did not specify how many fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 infections.

Experts say failure to slow the spread of the virus could have dire consequences for North Korea, given its poor health care system. Its population of 26 million is believed to be largely unvaccinated after its government shunned millions of shots from the UN-backed COVAX distribution programme, possibly due to concerns related to international surveillance requirements.

North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 outbreak last Thursday, when it announced that an unspecified number of people in Pyongyang had tested positive for the omicron outbreak. For more than two years, it has stood by a widely questioned claim that a flawless record has stopped a virus that has spread to nearly every part of the world.

Kim criticized the government and health officials for what he described as a poor response to the pandemic at a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Sunday, saying state medicines were not being supplied to pharmacies in a timely manner due to “irresponsible working attitudes” and a lack of organization, North Korea’s official North Korea said. Central News Agency said.

The Politburo has issued emergency orders for the immediate release and rapid distribution of the national drug stockpile and for pharmacies to switch to 24-hour shifts, but Kim said the measures were not properly implemented. Kim Jong-un ordered medical units of his military to participate in stabilizing the supply of medicines to Pyongyang, KCNA said.

North Korea’s claim to have a perfect record of maintaining virus isolation for 2 1/2 years has been widely questioned. But its extremely strict border closures, mass quarantines and propaganda emphasizing antivirus controls as a “state presence” may have prevented a massive outbreak until now.

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