Kim Jong Un criticized North Korea’s pandemic response and ordered the army to help deliver medicine, state media said Monday, as the government reported 50 deaths since initially announcing an outbreak of Covid-19. More than a million people have been stricken by what Pyongyang refers to as ‘fever’, according to official media, despite leader Kim ordering national lockdowns to limit the spread of sickness among the unvaccinated populace.
In a reminder of how bad the issue may be, Kim ‘seriously criticized’ healthcare authorities for what he called a bungled approach to epidemic prevention, notably a failure to maintain pharmacies open 24/7 to provide medicine. He directed the army to ‘quickly stabilize the supply of pharmaceuticals in Pyongyang,’ the capital, where Omicron was identified last week in North Korea’s first documented instances of Covid-19. Kim has taken the lead in North Korea’s sickness response, supervising near-daily emergency Politburo sessions on the epidemic, which he says is creating ‘grave disturbance’ in the country.
The inability to adequately distribute medicine was ‘because officials of the Cabinet and public health sector in charge of supply have not pulled up their sleeves, not properly recognizing the current situation,’ Kim added, according to state agency KCNA. Kim visited pharmacies to evaluate their quality and seriously criticized the Cabinet and the public health sector for their reckless work ethic, KCNA reported. He also criticized gaps in official legal control, citing ‘many unfavorable occurrences in the countrywide handling and sale of medications.’
According to analysts, North Korea has one of the world’s poorest healthcare systems, with ill-equipped hospitals, few critical care units, and no Covid treatment medications or mass testing capability. Kim Jong Un observed North Korea’s pharmaceutical scarcity at a drugstore. He may have predicted, but the scenario could have been worse than he had anticipated. According to Cheong Seong-jang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute,
According to KCNA, 50 individuals have died as of May 15, with 1,213,550 instances of ‘fever’ and over 500,000 still seeking medical care. North Korea has maintained a strict coronavirus blockade since the pandemic began, but with huge Omicron outbreaks in neighbouring nations, researchers predicted that Covid would infiltrate.
Kim’s public criticism, according to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, indicates that the situation on the ground is dire. ‘He’s highlighting the overall inadequacies of the quarantine system,’ he explained. According to KCNA, Kim has already stated that the North will ‘actively learn’ from China’s pandemic control policy.
China, the world’s only major country that still has a zero-Covid policy, is facing repeated Omicron outbreaks with lockdowns in key major cities, including financial capital Shanghai, causing public outrage. North Korea had previously rejected offers of Covid vaccinations from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative. However, both Beijing and Seoul have made new aid offers since the epidemic was reported.
Yang believes North Korea will require international support to deal with the big Omicron rise. ‘If China’s support is insufficient to contain the epidemic, North Korea will eventually turn to the South, the United States, or international organisations,’ he warned. US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Seoul later this week, with conversations over Pyongyang’s nuclear development and the Covid-19 outbreak likely to top the agenda. Despite the public health crisis, new satellite imagery shows North Korea has begun building on a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
The US and South Korea have both warned that Kim is planning another nuclear test, the regime’s eighth. Analysts have cautioned Kim that he may accelerate testing preparations in order to divert public attention away from the devastating coronavirus epidemic. According to researcher Cheong, accepting epidemic assistance from South Korea would both harm North Korea’s ‘ego’ and push it to postpone its nuclear testing intentions. ‘If Kim Jong Un is determined to conduct a test, he would refuse South Korea’s assistance,’ he stated.