North Korean military doctors have stepped up distribution of medicines to combat a growing coronavirus outbreak, state media said Tuesday, with the number of reported cases of “fever” approaching 1.5 million.
Leader Kim Jong-un ordered a nationwide blockade to try to slow the spread of the disease through the unvaccinated population and deployed the military after what he called a failed response to the outbreak.
Hundreds of camouflaged staff members of the Korean People’s Army medical units were seen gathering in the capital Pyongyang in photos released by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The army has “urgently deployed its powerful forces to all pharmacies in the city of Pyongyang and has started supplying medicines with the round-the-clock service system,” KCNA said.
A KCNA photo showed soldiers walking alongside a long line of green trucks.
North Korea has one of the worst health systems in the world, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no COVID-19 treatment drugs or mass testing capabilities, experts say. sources: AP, AP / Jon Chol Jin
Mr. Kim had strongly criticized health officials for their inability to keep pharmacies open.
North Korea’s leader has placed himself at the center of the country’s response to COVID-19 claiming that the epidemic is causing “a great upheaval”.
Authorities had reported more than 1.48 million cases of “fever” as of Monday evening, KCNA said, with a death toll of 56.
“At least 663,910 are under medical treatment,” the agency said.
Authorities have stepped up media awareness campaigns and pharmaceutical factories have increased production of medicines, KCNA reported.
No response to South Korea
North Korea has one of the worst health systems in the world, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no COVID-19 treatment drugs or mass testing capabilities, experts say.
“Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unvaccinated, there are barely any medicines left in the country and the health infrastructure is unable to deal with this pandemic,” Lina Yoon, a senior Korean researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
He urged the international community to offer North Korea medicines, vaccines and infrastructure.
Pyongyang has so far not responded to an offer of help from Seoul, according to the South Korean unification ministry.
South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk-yeol has taken a hawkish stance towards his country’s nuclear-armed neighbor, but told lawmakers on Monday that he would “not hold back” from aid if Pyongyang agrees.
Despite the COVID-19 crisis, new satellite images have indicated that North Korea has resumed construction of a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, the seventh in the country.