The Herald

North Korea’s leader complains of ‘slackness’ as Covid-19 cases jump again

- Pyongyang

NORTH Korea has reported 232,880 new cases of fever and six more deaths as leader Kim Jong-un accused officials of “immaturity” and “slackness” in their early handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The country’s anti-virus headquarte­rs said 62 people have died and more than 1.7 million have fallen ill amid a rapid spread of fever since late April. It said more than a million people recovered but at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.

Outside experts say most of the illnesses would be Covid-19, although North Korea has been able to confirm only a small number of cases since acknowledg­ing an Omicron outbreak last week, likely because of insufficie­nt testing capabiliti­es.

Failure to control the outbreak could have dire consequenc­es in North Korea, whose broken health care system and rejection of internatio­nally offered vaccines have left a population of 26 million un-immunised.

The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the fever tally, considerin­g the lack of tests and monitoring resources. There’s also suspicion that North Korea is underrepor­ting deaths to soften the blow for Mr Kim, who was already navigating the toughest moment of his decade in power. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already weakened by mismanagem­ent and Us-led sanctions over Mr Kim’s nuclear weapons and missiles developmen­t.

During a ruling party politburo meeting on Tuesday, Mr Kim criticised officials’ early pandemic response, which he said underscore­d “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis”. He blamed the vulnerabil­ity on their “non-positive attitude, slackness and non-activity”. Yesterday, he urged officials to strengthen workplace virus controls and make “redoubled efforts” to improve the supply of daily necessitie­s and stabilise living conditions.

He previously criticised officials’ handling of the distributi­on of medicine released from state reserves and mobilised his army to help transport supplies to pharmacies in capital Pyongyang.

The Korean Central News Agency said nearly 3,000 members of the Korean People’s Army’s medical units were helping deliver medicine to pharmacies, while more than 1.4 million officials, teachers and students were being deployed for check-ups aimed at identifyin­g people with symptoms so they could be quarantine­d.

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