NK Shuns Outside Help as COVID Cases Skyrocket

Kim criticized officials for 'non-positive attitudes' and 'slackness'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2022 8:07 AM CDT
NK Shuns Outside Help as COVID Cases Skyrocket
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, station staff disinfect the floor of Pyongyang station to curb the spread of coronavirus infection in Pyongyang.   (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

(Newser) – North Korea on Wednesday added hundreds of thousands of infections to its growing pandemic caseload but also said a million people have already recovered from suspected COVID-19 just a week after disclosing an outbreak, which it appears to be trying to manage in isolation as global experts express deep concern about dire consequences. The country’s anti-virus headquarters announced 232,880 new cases of "fever" and another six deaths in state media Wednesday, bringing totals to 62 deaths and more than 1.7 million fever cases since late April. Outside experts believe most of the fevers are from COVID-19, but North Korea lacks tests to confirm so many.

It’s unclear how more than a million people recovered so quickly when limited medicine, medical equipment, and health facilities exist to treat the country’s impoverished, unvaccinated population of 26 million. Before acknowledging COVID-19 infections last week, North Korea had held to a widely doubted claim of having kept the virus out. It has already shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the UN-backed COVAX program, likely because of monitoring requirements. It also ignored South Korea’s offers, but experts say it may be more willing to accept help from China. WHO officials expressed concern over the risk of further spread in North Korea but said they are powerless to act unless the country accepts its help.

During a Politburo meeting Tuesday, ruling party members expressed confidence that the country could overcome the crisis on its own, and they discussed ways for “continuously maintaining the good chance in the overall epidemic prevention front,” the state news agency said. Kim Jong Un criticized officials over their early pandemic response, saying it underscored “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis,” and he blamed the country's vulnerability on officials' “non-positive attitude, slackness, and non-activity," per state news. While raising alarm over the outbreak, Kim has also stressed that his economic goals should be met. State media reports show large groups of workers are continuing to gather at farms, mines, power stations, and construction sites to ensure their works are “propelled as scheduled.”

(Read more North Korea stories.)

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