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300,000 new Covid-19 cases occur in North Korea

Posted May. 16, 2022 08:20,   

Updated May. 16, 2022 08:20


Covid-19 cases are surging in North Korea day after day. “The spread of a malign infectious disease has become the biggest disaster since the nation’s founding,” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said as he openly expressed his sense of crisis. The South Korean government is set to make an official offer to provide vaccines and medical supplies to the North as early as early this week, but it is unknown whether Kim will accept. However, watchers say that with agitation among North Koreans having spread to local communities already, if the situation further goes out of control, there could be a possibility that the two Koreas will start talks to address quarantine in the North.

According to North Korea’s official state media outlets, the number of new patients with fever is surging from 18,000 (May 12), to 174,400 (13), and to 296,180 (evening on May 13 and 5 pm on May 14). In the North, even getting the accurate number of confirmed cases is difficult due to lack of diagnostic kits and thus ‘confirmed cases’ are labeled as ‘people with fever.” When considering this situation, the actual number of confirmed cases should be much larger. The cumulative number of deaths in the North also amounted to 42 as of Saturday. Professor Kim Woo-joo of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital in Seoul said, “The fatality rate in the North will amount to 3 to 5 percent, as the was the case in Wuhan, China during the early days of the Covid-19 epidemics there.” Emeritus professor Baik Soon-young of Catholic University in Seoul said, “60% to 60% of the North Korean population will get infected with within two to three months.”

Even though North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the current situation ‘the biggest disaster’ while presiding over a politburo meeting on Saturday, he nonetheless stressed that the transmission between regions was not out of control. He indicated that Pyongyang will respond to the epidemic by resorting to social control centered on lockdowns, rather than receiving support from outside at least for the time being. However, experts say Pyongyang will find it difficult to bring the Covid-19 situation under control without receiving international assistance. In fact, the situation in the Stalinist country is chaotic already, with the North’s Korean Central New Agency reporting “Deaths caused by misuse of drugs account for a significant portion.”

“We have already confirmed signs of disturbance among North Koreans early last week,” a ranking South Korean official also told The Dong-A Ilbo on Sunday. “We are keeping a close watch on the situation in the North, as the matter is also linked with the North Korean military’s situation.”

Jin-Woo Shin niceshin@donga.com