As the government scrambles to confront what state media has called a “serious national emergency,”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has activated the military to respond to the country’s first publicly acknowledged outbreak of Covid-19.
Despite placing all cities under lockdown on Thursday, state media agency KCNA said on Monday that a total of 392,920 new cases of “fever” and eight deaths were documented between Saturday and Sunday evening alone, however, it did not name Covid-19 as the cause of death.
This takes the total number of cases reported to 1.2 million. Over 648,000 recovered and 50 people were killed.
Many specialists, however, are doubtful of the official estimates, with few believing that a country with a population of over 25 million people had escaped infection until now.
Kim stated at an emergency gathering of top officials on Sunday that state-provided medicine was not being delivered to people in a timely manner through pharmacies. According to KCNA, Kim chastised officials for “not correctly realizing the current dilemma but merely talking about the spirit of devotedly serving the people.”
According to KCNA, Kim chastised his cabinet and public health officials for “irresponsible work” and inadequate “organization and execution,” and blamed the director of the central public prosecutor’s office for “idleness and disregard of his duty.”
According to KCNA, Kim directed the military’s medical branch to concentrate on “quickly stabilizing the supply of medications in Pyongyang City” and discussed ways to assure pharmacy hygiene. Following the conference, Kim went to pharmacies in the capital to highlight the shortage of drugs.
Over the weekend, state television broadcasted a video of medical personnel washing deserted streets. It also featured an interview with a doctor who advised Covid users to take pain relievers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, as well as traditional Korean medicine like Cheongsimhwan, a tablet made up of several plants.
With its crumbling healthcare infrastructure, lack of diagnostic equipment, and mostly unvaccinated populace, an epidemic of Covid-19 might be deadly for North Korea.
Although North Korea is qualified for the global Covid-19 vaccine sharing program, Covax, it is not known if it has imported any coronavirus vaccinations. According to Reuters, Covax reduced the number of doses given to North Korea in February after the nation failed to arrange for any shipments.
Given the regime’s opaque nature and the country’s isolation from the rest of the world, which has only become worse since the outbreak, assessing the true situation on the ground is exceedingly difficult.
On Monday, South Korea offered aid, but it is uncertain if Pyongyang will take it. During his maiden budget speech before the legislature, newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol remarked, “We must not hold back on offering vital help to the North Korean people who are exposed to the threat of the coronavirus.”