Kim claims progress as ‘fever’ cases soar

STRESSFUL SITUATION This photo from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking during a meeting of the ruling party’s politburo in Pyongyang on Saturday, May 21, 2022. KCNA PHOTO VIA AP

SEOUL: North Korea said on Saturday it found nearly 220,000 more people showing signs of fever even as leader Kim Jong Un claimed progress in slowing a largely undiagnosed spread of Covid-19 among a population unvaccinated 26 million.

The outbreak has raised concerns about serious tragedies in the East Asian country with one of the worst health systems in the world and a high tolerance for civilian suffering. Experts say North Korea is almost certainly downplaying the true scale of the virus spread, including a suspiciously low death toll, to soften the political blow to Kim as he navigates the toughest time in his decade of reign.

About 219,030 North Koreans with fever were identified in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. Friday, the fifth consecutive daily increase of about 200,000, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which attributed the information at the headquarters of the government antivirus. .

North Korea said more than 2.4 million people had fallen ill and 66 people had died since an unidentified fever began spreading rapidly in late April, although the country could only identify a handful of these cases as Covid-19 due to a lack of testing supplies. After maintaining a dubious claim for two and a half years that it had perfectly blocked the entry of the coronavirus into its territory, the North admitted infections to Omicron last week.

Amid a lack of public health tools, the North has mobilized more than a million health workers to find people with fevers and isolate them in quarantine facilities. Kim also imposed strict restrictions on movement between cities and towns and mobilized thousands of troops to help transport medicine to pharmacies in the capital Pyongyang, which has been the center of the outbreak.

At a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo on Saturday, Kim insisted the country was beginning to bring the outbreak under control and called for heightened vigilance to maintain the “positive trend” in the anti-virus campaign, KCNA reported. . But he also appeared to hint at easing its pandemic response to ease its economic hardship, asking officials to actively modify the country’s preventative measures as the virus situation evolves and come up with various plans to revitalize. the economy.

KCNA said Politburo members debated ways to “design and execute more effectively” the government’s anti-virus policy in line with how the spread of the coronavirus was “stably controlled and reduced,” but the agency Press releases did not specify what was discussed.

Even imposing what state media described as “maximum” preventive measures, Kim stressed that his economic goals must still be met, and state media described large groups of workers continuing to rally in farms, mining facilities, power plants and construction sites.

Experts say Kim cannot afford to bring the country to a standstill, which would trigger an additional shock to a fragile economy, strained by decades of mismanagement, crippling US sanctions for his ambitions on nuclear weapons and the closing of borders in the event of a pandemic. State media described urgent pressure for agricultural campaigns to protect crops amid ongoing drought, a worrying development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity, and to complete construction projects. housing and other large-scale construction projects that Kim considers crucial to his rule.

The virus hasn’t stopped Kim from hosting and attending public events important to his leadership. State media showed him crying at Saturday’s state funeral for senior North Korean military official Hyon Chol Hae, who is believed to have been involved in grooming Kim as a future leader under the reign. of his father, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea’s optimistic portrayal of its response to the pandemic contrasts sharply with outside concerns about dire consequences, including deaths of up to tens of thousands of people. Concerns have grown as the country seemingly tries to manage the crisis in isolation while ignoring help from South Korea and the United States. Seoul said it could not confirm reports that Pyongyang flew planes to bring back emergency supplies from China, its main ally, this week.

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