North Korea Claims Covid Outbreak Is Taking A ‘Favorable Turn’ As WHO Frets About Lack Of Data
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Topline

North Korea on Wednesday claimed its Covid-19 outbreak was taking a “favorable turn” while still reporting more than 200,000 new suspected cases as the World Health Organization expressed concerns about the lack of proper data from the country and the risk of unchecked spread.

Key Facts

On Wednesday, North Korea reported 232,880 new cases of “fever” and six additional deaths, according to the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The country has reported 62 deaths in total and 1.72 million suspected cases, of which authorities claim more than 1 million have recovered.

State media is only reporting the number of cases with fever—one of many symptoms of Covid—as North Korea is believed to lack adequate testing supplies, indicating that it may be missing out on cases that are asymptomatic or mild.

In a Politburo meeting on Tuesday, leader Kim Jong Un once again took aim at his government officials for mishandling the outbreak by pointing out the “immaturity” in the state’s capacity for dealing with the crisis.

Despite this, officials claimed the health crisis was taking a “favorable turn,” pointing to the “justness, efficiency, and scientific accuracy” of the prevention policy that has now been put into effect.

In a separate report, state media claimed that North Korean officials have stepped up work to “massively develop and produce drugs effective in the treatment of the malignant virus infection,” without offering any details about the drugs in question.

Tangent

Experts believe North Korea’s reported deaths are a significant undercount. According to the Associated Press, there is some suspicion that North Korea may be deliberately underreporting deaths to soften the pandemic’s blow to Kim’s regime. Others have expressed concerns that there may be further underreporting taking place at local levels by officials who want to avoid the wrath of the leadership in Pyongyang. So far, Kim has not shied away from blaming his own government officials for the ongoing outbreak.

News Peg

On Tuesday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said North Korea has not responded to its request for more data regarding the outbreak. Before acknowledging the current outbreak last Thursday, North Korean officials had reiterated a widely questioned claim that the country had been virus-free since the start of the pandemic. North Korea previously also refused to accept vaccines offered to it as part of the U.N.-backed COVAX program, in a possible effort to avoid monitoring requirements. Tedros said Pyongyang has also not responded to the WHO’s offer of vaccines, medicines, tests and technical support to tackle its current outbreak. The WHO chief said the global health body was “deeply concerned” about the risk of further spread in North Korea, adding that the country was home to a significant number of people with underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to severe Covid. Dr. Mike Ryan, the chief of WHO’s health emergencies program, further noted that unchecked transmission inside North Korea could lead to the formation of new variants.

Key Background

Last week, Kim ordered a national lockdown after health officials in the country detected multiple Covid-19 cases in Pyongyang caused by the highly infectious BA.2 omicron variant. Most of North Korea’s population is believed to be unvaccinated against Covid-19 and its healthcare system is also thought to be in extremely poor condition, making it vulnerable to being quickly overwhelmed by the virus. Some speculated that its decision to disclose the current outbreak was a sign that it was seeking international help. Despite this, Pyongyang has so far ignored both the WHO and South Korea’s offer to provide vaccines, medicines and health personnel. However, it appears Kim’s regime is more accepting of help from its main ally China, with South Korean media reporting multiple planes carrying emergency supplies flew back to North Korea from China on Tuesday.

Further Reading

Kim Jong Un Slams ‘Irresponsible’ Government And Health Officials As North Korea’s Covid Outbreak Surges (Forbes)

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