SEOUL, South Korea ( Associated Press) — North Korea said Friday that about 10% of its 26 million people have been sickened and 65 people have died in its first outbreak of COVID-19, but outside experts question the validity of the claim. death toll and are concerned about a possible humanitarian crisis.
After admitting an omicron outbreak last week, after more than two years claiming it was free of coronavirus, North Korea explained that an unidentified fever has spread explosively across the country since late April. Since then, his center against the pandemic has published data every morning the official number of people suffering from the fever in the state media, but does not mention the cases of COVID-19.
Some observers suggest that the country could have been forced to acknowledge the outbreak by not being able to hide the spread of the highly contagious virus among its population and suffering from its possible discontent with its leader, Kim Jong Un. They believe that the authorities are underreporting deaths to try to show that their response is effective, although they lack diagnostic tests to confirm a large number of virus cases.
“It is true that there has been a gap in these two and a half years of fighting the pandemic,” said Kwak Gil Sup, director of One Korea Center, a website specializing in the hermetic nation. “But there is a saying that North Korea is a ‘theatrical state,’ and I think they are making up the COVID-19 statistics.”
According to Kwak, the country is likely in part using the outbreak as a propaganda tool to show that it is overcoming the pandemic under Kim’s leadership. But the nation has “a plan B” and “a plan C” to seek Chinese and international help if the pandemic gets out of control, he added.
The state center for epidemic prevention said on Friday that 263,370 more people suffered from fever symptoms and reported two deaths, bringing the total number of those affected by the disease to 2.24 million people while putting the death toll at 65. In addition, 754,810 people remain in quarantine, he said according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The outbreak may have originated from an April 25 military parade in Pyongyang where Kim showed off his new missiles and loyal troops. The event, and related events marking the anniversary of the army’s founding, brought tens of thousands of people and soldiers from the capital and other areas onto the streets, who then returned to their places of origin.
South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Thursday that “a considerable number” of the fever cases reported by the North are from people who contracted waterborne diseases such as rubella, typhus and whooping cough.
On Monday, as North Korea’s official tally of fever cases surpassed 1.2 million, Ryu Yong Chol, an official with the anti-virus department, said on state television that the government had detected 168 positives for COVID-19 as of Saturday. . That figure has not been updated since.
Ahn Kyung-su, director of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focused on health issues in North Korea, said Pyongyang may have determined that the omicron outbreak will not cause a catastrophic death toll, but made the outbreak public to avoid possible discontent. of the population. The increased measures against the virus seek in part to strengthen its control over a population fed up with previous measures and other difficulties.
“The North Korean pandemic response is not fully staged as people are dying. But it is obvious that the political intentions of its leaders have been added to that.” Ahn pointed out. “One day, they will proclaim their victory over COVID-19 in a flashy way.”
North Korea’s public health system remains in chaos and experts say the country could see a huge death toll from the pandemic if it doesn’t get supplies from abroad. In addition, they pointed out that strict movement controls and quarantines could have worsened their food security.