The North Korean regime speaks of a “fever”. Eight new deaths have been recorded in the country, four days after the official announcement of the very first case of Covid-19, the official North Korean agency KCNA said on Sunday.
Regime leader Kim Jong-un also called for the immediate mobilization of the army to solve problems of “drug reserves” in the capital Pyongyang, she added. The epidemic, which, according to Kim Jong-un, is causing “great upheaval”, is hitting a country whose health system is one of the worst in the world. North Korea’s healthcare system was ranked 193rd out of 195 countries in a study by Johns Hopkins University of the United States last year. The country’s hospitals are poorly equipped, with few intensive care units.
Kim Jong-un castigates health authorities
Sign of the gravity of the situation, the North Korean leader “strongly criticized the government and the public health sector for their irresponsible attitude”, reported the state agency KCNA. The leader oversees near-daily emergency Politburo meetings, and North Korean media released photos of him visiting a pharmacy in Pyongyang on Sunday.
The fact that Kim Jong-un publicly vilifies his own administration reflects the “sense of crisis” that has gripped the regime, said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “He puts his finger on the general inadequacy of the quarantine system,” says this analyst, while the country has been cut off from the world for two years.
Neither vaccines nor drugs
According to KCNA, Kim Jong-un complained at an emergency politburo meeting on Sunday that “orders have not yet been properly executed and drugs have not been properly supplied to pharmacies.” “. And pharmacies did not comply with the order to remain open 24 hours a day, he added.
North Korea has no vaccine against Covid, no antiviral drugs and cannot carry out a mass screening campaign.
Official death toll of 50
“Government and public health service officials in charge of supply have not rolled up their sleeves, failing to take the full measure of the current crisis, merely talking about the spirit of dedication to the service of the people,” asserted the leader.
According to the official agency, the total toll stands at 1,213,550 cases of fever, 50 dead, and at least 564,860 people under treatment. North Korea has refused offers of Covid vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax program. On Monday, the new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told the National Assembly that he “would not hesitate to provide the necessary assistance to the North Korean people”.
Vaccines or nuclear test
Despite the health crisis, new satellite images indicate that North Korea has resumed the construction of a nuclear reactor long interrupted. Washington and Seoul suspect Pyongyang of preparing a nuclear test, which would be the seventh in its history and the first since 2017, in order to divert the attention of the North Korean population from the health crisis.
In this context, accepting South Korea’s aid against Covid-19 would hurt the ego of the North Korean regime and force it to refrain from carrying out this nuclear test, explains Cheong Seong-jang, researcher at the Sejong Institute. “If Kim Jong-un is determined to carry out a test, he will not accept help from South Korea,” he predicts.