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N. Korea touts progress in handling COVID-19 pandemic, but prepares for another wave

Daily new fever cases stay below 100,000 for two consecutive days, data shows

This photo, released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Sunday, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un holding a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea to discuss anti-COVID-19 measures. (Yonhap)
This photo, released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Sunday, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un holding a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea to discuss anti-COVID-19 measures. (Yonhap)
North Korea has touted progress in curbing and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, but admitted that the country is bracing for another wave of infections that could stem from the spread of new variants.

The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee on Sunday convened a consultative meeting at the headquarters of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang under the guidance of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the state-run media including the Korean Central News Agency reported later in the day.

The politburo members were briefed about the spread of the infectious disease by region and the characteristics of the virus transmission as well as the country’s distribution of medicines and experiences in treating patients. They were informed of the national-level research on the origin of the initial outbreaks and the course of the virus transmission.

North Korea on May 12 officially admitted a COVID-19 outbreak and the detection of the BA.2 subvariant of the omicron virus. But state media outlets have not generally made any direct mention of COVID-19 while reporting the daily number of “fever” cases.

During the meeting, the politburo concluded that North Korea’s anti-epidemic measures have helped effectively curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Political Bureau made a positive assessment of the pandemic situation being under control and improved across the country,” KCNA and the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, said in a Korean-language report.

The politburo members also discussed continuously stabilizing the outbreak and making progress toward epidemic control based on the anti-epidemic experiences learned in the early stage of the virus outbreak.

Pyongyang also alluded to the possibility of easing curbs and lockdown measures should the country continue to see a downward trend in pandemic-related cases.

“The Political Bureau deliberated on the issues of effectively and quickly adjusting and enforcing anti-epidemic regulations and guidelines in keeping with the stable trend in the spread of an epidemic disease,” the state media said. 

Maintaining stable, downward trend
North Korea on Sunday claimed that its daily new “fever” cases stayed below 100,000 for two consecutive days as of Saturday afternoon amid what is widely believed to be a COVID-19 outbreak.

The state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters reported around 89,500 more people showed fever symptoms in the 24 hours up to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, putting the tally at 3,348,880, state media reported Sunday.

North Korea’s new fever cases dropped to below 100,000 for the first time as of Friday after the daily tally remained above 100,000 for six days in a row between May 21 and 26.

After the rare admission of the virus outbreak, the Kim Jong-un regime has trumpeted its achievement in constraining the infectious disease as it gears up for the party plenum scheduled for early June.

Official statistics suggest that the country has maintained a stable and downward trend in the virus spread despite remaining questions on the validity of the data.

But the Rodong Sinmun on Sunday urged health officials to continue to be vigilant although the country has kept the lid on the virus outbreak.

The daily cases of new patients with fever symptoms have decreased compared to the previous day in most regions and the number of recoveries has surpassed the daily tally.

“But it does not mean that we have completely regained stability in implementing an emergency anti-epidemic campaign,” the Rodong Sinmun said, adding that the country has not yet “thoroughly blocked and eradicated the transmission source of the malicious virus that flowed into our region.”

The newspaper warned that the country could face “serious consequences“ if it became complacent and numb to the virus outbreak.

Bracing for second wave
In a separate article, the Rodong Sinmun and KCNA on Sunday suggested that the country is preparing for a potential second wave that could originate from the emergence and transmission of new coronavirus variants.

“The emergency anti-epidemic sector accepts that another state of emergency could arise as a fait accompli in preparation for the serious situation that new virus variants have continued to emerge and be spread across the world,” the Rodong Sinmun said.

“It (the sector) has taken necessary measures while scientifically predicting the transmission trend of the malicious virus.”

North Korea’s health care officials and experts have been pushing a plan to overhaul and reinforce epidemic preparedness and response in the long-term perspective, according to the state media.

North Korea, for instance, has implemented a project on establishing quarantine facilities with improved accommodation capacity and treating conditions in Pyongyang and each province as well as designating professional organizations dedicated to disease control.

The country also has taken measures to supply medical appliance factories with materials needed to produce medical devices including respirators, patient monitoring systems and oximeters.

(dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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