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Kim Jong Un criticized North Korean health authorities on Monday for their handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, which has killed 50 people since it officially appeared in the country, and ordered the military to mobilize.
The Supreme Leader of North Korea is advancing to the fore. Leader Kim Jong Un criticized his country’s health authorities on Monday (May 16) for their handling of the COVID-19 epidemic and ordered the military to mobilize. The country is facing an epidemic wave, with more than a million people infected and at least 50 deaths since its official appearance, while the country does not have a vaccine or treatment and does not have the ability to test its population on a large scale.
Noting the seriousness of the situation, the North Korean leader “strongly criticized the government and the public health sector for their irresponsible behavior,” the official KCNA news agency reported.
During the Politburo meeting, he privately complained about the fact that pharmacies were not open 24 hours a day. The Korean Central News Agency quoted his regret that drug supply officials “did not roll up their sleeves and correctly assess the current crisis.”
He ordered the military to begin work “immediately to stabilize drug supplies to Pyongyang,” where the first cases of Covid-19 in North Korea were officially revealed last week.
Kim Jong-un has taken personal control of the fight against the epidemic, which, according to him, is causing “big turmoil” in the country, whose population is not vaccinated.
The leader is overseeing almost daily emergency Politburo meetings, and North Korean media released photos of him visiting a pharmacy in Pyongyang on Sunday (May 15).
Despite widespread confinement, 1213,550 people have been infected, 50 people have died, and 564,860 are undergoing medical treatment, according to the Korean Central News Agency, which does not explicitly refer to Covid-19 but talks about a “fever”.
North Korea’s healthcare system ranked 193And Among the 195 countries, according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University last year. The state’s hospitals are poorly equipped, with few intensive care units. According to experts, the country has no cure for Covid-19 and does not have the capacity to test its population on a large scale.
“By visiting the pharmacy, Kim Jong-un was able to see with his own eyes the shortage of medicines in North Korea,” Sejong Institute researcher Cheong Seong Jang told AFP. “Maybe the situation was more serious than he thought,” he adds.
Inspired by China’s “zero COVID” strategy?
North Korea has isolated itself further from the world for more than two years to protect itself from the pandemic. But experts considered it inevitable that the virus would eventually infiltrate the country, given the outbreak of the epidemic due to the Omicron variant in neighboring countries.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim Jong-un’s public vilification of his government reflects the “sense of crisis” gripping the regime. “He puts his finger on the general shortcomings of the quarantine system,” says this analyst.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean leader expressed his intention to benefit from China’s anti-epidemic strategy.
China is one of the last countries in the world to practice a “zero covid” policy that consists of counting entire cities as soon as the slightest case appears, and systematically tracing and isolating patients.
Pyongyang can “ask for help from the United States or international organizations”
North Korea has rejected offers of Covid-19 vaccines from China and the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Covax program, but Beijing and Seoul have reached out again.
Yang said Pyongyang will likely need help to beat the outbreak, but that from China may not be enough.
And this professor predicts: “If China’s aid is not enough to overcome the epidemic, North Korea will eventually seek help from the South, the United States or international organizations.” “But timing will be key. I think the outcome of the South Korea-US summit on May 21 will be an important criterion for North Korea to decide whether or not to accept the aid offer from the South,” he added.
US President Joe Biden is expected to arrive in Seoul this weekend to meet his new South Korean counterpart, Yoon Seok-yeol. Pyongyang’s weapons programs and the COVID-19 outbreak are likely to be high on the agenda of this summit.
Despite the health crisis, new satellite images indicate that North Korea has resumed construction of a long-stall nuclear reactor. Washington and Seoul suspect Pyongyang is preparing for a nuclear test, which will be its seventh in its history and the first since 2017.
In this context, accepting aid from South Korea against Covid-19 would harm the North Korean regime’s ego and force it to refrain from conducting this nuclear test, explains Cheong Seong-jang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute. “If Kim Jong-un is determined to get tested, he will not accept help from South Korea,” he said.