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[Newsmaker] Seoul to soon propose talks with Pyongyang on COVID-19

Number of cases explosively grow as Seoul talks support measures

A screen capture from the broadcast of the Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un leading a meeting on virus control measures Saturday. (Yonhap)
A screen capture from the broadcast of the Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un leading a meeting on virus control measures Saturday. (Yonhap)
South Korea is preparing to propose holding talks with North Korea on providing COVID-19 assistance, as Pyongyang recently acknowledged that it is undergoing a virus outbreak and is believed to be struggling with a lack of test kits and medical supplies.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday morning 15 new COVID-19 deaths and 296,180 additional people with fever symptoms after the country for the first time acknowledged undergoing a virus outbreak three days earlier.

The total number of deaths reached 42 after the new cases were added from Friday evening to 6 p.m. Saturday. North Korea has reported a total of 820,620 cases with fever symptoms since late last month, 496,030 of them cured and 324,550 undergoing treatment.

The rise in the number of new suspected cases is alarmingly fast, considering North Korea had only reported around 18,000 new cases Thursday and 174,400 additional cases Friday.

Many suspected that North Korea lacks self-test kit supplies and devices to conduct polymerase chain reaction diagnostic tests as it has been labeling suspected cases as those with fever symptoms.

That implies the country may not have a full grasp of the number of COVID-19 infections and how widespread the disease in its territory.

The state-run media said all borders of North Korea’s cities, counties and provinces have been closed to control the virus spread since Thursday, adding close to 1.35 million people have received health checks and undergone treatment.

The KCNA added the state has been running campaigns to educate people on hygiene and treatment options, with leading officials donating excess medical supplies for nationwide distribution. The number of deaths has risen as people are not so knowledgeable on how to best use medicine for treatment, the news outlet said.

South Korea has been contemplating whether to support North Korea with COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies after North Korea acknowledged that it is grappling with a “national emergency” from the virus outbreak on Thursday upon confirming its first case of an omicron variant infection.

Kang In-sun, a spokesperson for the office of President Yoon Suk-yeol, said in a statement Friday that Yoon plans to hold discussions with North Korean officials on possible aid. The Unification Ministry is likely to be responsible for holding the talks as part of maintaining inter-Korean relations.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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