North Korean soldiers delivered medicine to pharmacies amid the North's anti-epidemic campaign, in this photo released May 19 by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea has ordered the military medical field to supply medicine to pharmacies under the 24-hour service system, as the North has seen a surge in suspected coronavirus cases. (Yonhap)
North Korea’s total cases of fever have surpassed 2 million since late April, amid what is widely believed to be a COVID-19 outbreak.
With the rising number of cases, the North Korean regime is scrambling to equally distribute emergency medical supplies across the country.
The state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters reported approximately 263,370 cases of fever in the 24 hours up to 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday.
The total number of recorded fever cases reached 2,241,610, which accounted for around 8.64 percent of North Korea’s total population. The Central Intelligence Agency estimates that North Korea has a total population of 25,955,138 people as of this year.
The regime has also been tracking deaths related to infectious disease since late April. It reported two deaths in the 24 hour period up to 6 p.m. on Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths to 65. Around 754,810 people have been receiving treatment, and the total number of recoveries is approximately 1,486,730.
But South Korea’s intelligence agency on Thursday told the National Assembly in a closed-door briefing that what the North calls “fever cases” would include a considerable number of people infected with other waterborne diseases due to the lack of COVID-19 diagnostic devices in North Korea, according to lawmaker Ha Tae-keung, who attended the briefing.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Friday pointed out it is difficult to precisely gauge the COVID-19 situation in North Korea and assess whether the virus outbreak is taking a favorable turn as Pyongyang claimed this week. The ministry also explained that it is unclear what criteria and symptoms are being used to define a fever case.
North Korea’s daily new fever cases have remained in the 200,000s for the fourth consecutive day as of Thursday afternoon after reaching a peak on May 15. But the country appears to be focused on coming up with measures to combat the crisis on its own.
North Korea has not yet responded to the South Korean government’s proposal on Monday to provide vaccines, personal protective equipment, and diagnostic devices and share know-how to prevent and control the COVID-19 virus. The World Health Organization this week also called for Pyongyang to accept the international community’s offer of humanitarian aid that is ready to be delivered.
Distribution of reserve medical supplies
Instead, North Korea’s Cabinet and Health Ministry have urgently distributed “national reserve medical supplies” across the country to “swiftly contain and control the spread of infectious diseases,” KCNA reported on Friday in a Korean-language dispatch.
The politburo of the Party Central Committee on May 14 made the decision at a meeting convened by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as the country shifted to a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system.” But the following day, Kim presided over another meeting and lambasted the Cabinet and Health Ministry for not promptly implementing the order.
The KCNA on Friday said that North Korean functionaries have pushed ahead with devising measures to deliver medical supplies as planned in coordination with the Party and other organizations.
The Health Ministry has deployed officials to each province, and also heightened control notably to ensure the equal distribution of drugs across the country. North Korea pointed to uneven distribution in medical supplies as a major challenge to combat the infectious disease.
North Korea also has increased the production of masks and protective clothing on a national scale and come up with plans to funnel personal protective equipment to regions affected with infectious diseases when necessary, the KCNA reported in a separate article.
Medical factories have begun mass manufacturing medical supplies, including thermometers, in earnest to supply them all over the country, according to another report delivered by KCNA on Thursday. Pharmaceutical factories have also boosted the production of “injections and traditional Kyoro medicines effective in prevention and treatment of malicious infectious disease,” according to the KCNA report.
COVID-19 treatment guidelines
The Kim Jong-un regime is also seeking to raise public awareness about COVID-19. The KCNA reported on Wednesday that North Korea “issued COVID-19 treatment guidelines” and circulated it to central and regional organizations in charge of epidemic prevention and control.
The state media notably explained that the guidance was published as “people have died of overdoses and other malpractices stemming from their ignorance about scientific treatment.”
The guidelines stipulate clinical criteria for classifying someone diagnosed with COVID-19, how to diagnose a severe case, and how to treat the virus. There are three versions of the guidelines for adults, children and pregnant women.
In addition, Pyongyang has ramped up ideological indoctrination in a bid to solidify internal unity. The Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, has eulogized Kim’s leadership and his efforts to surmount the public health crisis.
“For the people of a country, it is a great honor and fortune to have a father who we can trust, look up to and always depend on even during tough times,” the newspaper said on Friday.
The KCNA on Friday also underscored that North Korea has also made officials and workers aware of the “validity, effectiveness, and scientific nature” of the party’s infection control and prevention policy. Pyongyang has stepped up ideological campaigns to overcome the current health crisis with “politico-ideological and moral strength.”