State media reported Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lambasted the country’s pandemic response and ordered the army to assist in the distribution of medicine, as the country reported 50 deaths since the first report of COVID-19.
Despite Chairman Kim ordering statewide lockdowns in an attempt to slow the spread of sickness among the unvaccinated populace, more than a million people have been affected by what Pyongyang is calling “fever,” according to official media.
Kim “seriously criticised” healthcare officials for what he called a “botched reaction to epidemic prevention,” notably a failing to maintain pharmacies open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to administer medicine, indicating how bad the issue may be.
He told the army to set to work “quickly stabilising the supply of pharmaceuticals in Pyongyang,” North Korea’s capital, where Omicron was discovered last week in the country’s first Covid-19 cases.
Kim has taken the lead in North Korea’s sickness response, chairing nearly daily emergency Politburo sessions on the outbreak, which he says is causing “grave disturbance.”
The failure to properly distribute medicine was “due to those in charge of the supply from the Cabinet and the public health sector not rolling up their sleeves and appropriately recognising the current problem,” according to state broadcaster KCNA.
Kim “seriously criticised the Cabinet and the public health sector for their reckless work attitude,” according to KCNA, who visited pharmacies to check firsthand.
He also pointed to “many unfavourable occurrences in the nationwide handling and selling of drugs,” citing failures in official legal monitoring.
Experts claim North Korea’s healthcare system is one of the world’s worst, with ill-equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no covid therapy medications or mass testing capability.
“Kim Jong Un noticed the paucity of medications in North Korea with his own eyes when visiting a drugstore,” said Cheong Seong-jang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute.
“He may have estimated correctly, but the situation could have been more catastrophic than he anticipated.”
According to KCNA, 50 individuals had died as of May 15, with 1,213,550 cases of “fever” and more than half a million needing medical attention.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, North Korea has maintained a strict coronavirus blockade, but specialists predicted that with major Omicron outbreaks in neighbouring nations, Covid would find its way in.
Mode of crisis
According to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, Kim’s public criticism indicates that the situation on the ground is dire.
“He’s emphasising the quarantine system’s general inadequacies,” he explained.
According to KCNA, Kim earlier stated that the North will “actively learn” from China’s pandemic response policy.
China, the world’s only major economy with a zero-covid policy, is fighting repeated Omicron outbreaks with lockdowns in some major cities, including financial capital Shanghai, causing public outrage.
North Korea has previously rejected offers of covid vaccinations from China and the World Health Organization’s COVAX programme, but since the epidemic was reported, both Beijing and Seoul have made new offers of assistance.
Yang believes that North Korea will require international support to survive the enormous Omicron surge.
“If China’s help is insufficient to stop the epidemic, North Korea will turn to the South, the US, or international organisations,” he warned.
US Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Seoul later this week, when he would likely discuss Pyongyang’s weapons programmes and the COVID-19 outbreak.
Despite the public health catastrophe, new satellite imagery shows North Korea has restarted work on a long-dormant nuclear plant.
Kim is ready to execute his seventh nuclear test, according to the US and South Korea.
Analysts have cautioned that Kim may speed up testing preparations in order to divert attention away from the devastating coronavirus epidemic.
Taking influenza assistance from South Korea would hurt North Korea’s “ego” while also forcing it to postpone its nuclear testing intentions, according to researcher Cheong.
“If Kim Jong Un is dead set on testing, he would not accept South Korea’s assistance,” he warned.