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North Korea On Saturday, it reported no new fever cases for the first time since it suddenly acknowledged its first local outbreak of COVID-19 and placed 26 million people under stricter restrictions in May.
There have been widespread external doubts about the accuracy of North Korean statistics as reported deaths are very low and daily fever cases have fallen very rapidly in recent times. Some experts say North Korea has likely manipulated the scale of illnesses and deaths to help leader Kim Jong Un maintain absolute control amid mounting economic hardship.
North Korea’s Epidemic Control Center said via state media that it had detected no fever patients in the last 24 hours, keeping the total number of cases in the country at around 4.8 million. The death toll remains at 74, with a fatality rate of 0.0016% which is the lowest in the world if true.
Despite the alleged zero cases, it is unclear whether and when North Korea will officially declare victory over COVID-19 and lift restrictions related to the epidemic because experts say it may face a viral rebound later this year like many other countries. North Korea’s state media recently said it is stepping up and developing its anti-epidemic systems to protect against sub-variants of the coronavirus and other diseases such as monkeypox that occur in other countries.
“The organizational strength and unique unity of (North Korea’s) society are fully demonstrated in the struggle to achieve victory in the emergency anti-epidemic campaign,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday.
The lack of alleged cases of infection in North Korea may be of symbolic importance in its efforts to cement Kim’s image as a leader who has suppressed the outbreak much faster than other countries. Kim will need such certifications for greater public support to overcome the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic-related border closures. UN sanctions And his mismanagement, observers say.
“In North Korea, public health care and politics are inseparable, and this aspect has been exposed again in the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Ahn Kyung-su, president of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focused on health. . Issues in North Korea. “Since they started with the manipulated data, they are now putting an end to the outbreak with the manipulated data.”
North Korea was widely expected to report no cases, as the number of daily fever cases has fallen in recent days – three cases were reported on Friday and 11 on Thursday – from a peak of about 400,000 cases per day in May. The country, which lacks testing kits, has identified only a fraction of the 4.8 million fever patients Confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“Realistically, hundreds of thousands of daily fever cases becoming zero in less than three months is impossible,” said Lee Yu-han, a professor at the Graduate School of Public Health at Ajo University in South Korea.
Many outside experts had earlier worried that the outbreak in North Korea would have serious consequences because most of its population is believed to be unvaccinated and about 40% are undernourished. But now, activists and defectors with connections in North Korea say they have not heard of anything like a humanitarian catastrophe taking place in the North. They say the outbreak in the country has likely peaked.
In a sign that the outbreak has receded, North Korea this week held massive public events without a mask in its capital, Pyongyang, as thousands of Korean War veterans and others from across the country gathered to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 war. During the anniversary party, Kim hugged and exchanged handshakes with some veterans before taking group photos with other participants. According to official media photos, no one was wearing masks.
North Korea will know that zero cases does not mean there are no COVID-19 patients because there are likely asymptomatic cases, said Shin Young-gyun, professor of preventive medicine at Hanyang University in Seoul. He said North Korea likely won’t announce that it has officially defeated the epidemic anytime soon due to fears of a resurgence.
“North Korea’s state media has already used expressions like it won in its fight against viruses. The only other expression they can use now is to declare the coronavirus completely eradicated from its territory,” Shin said. “But if new cases emerge again, North Korea will lose face.”
The only way for North Korea’s new virus to spread from abroad is likely to be through China, its main ally that shares a long and porous border with the country, Lee said, and North Korea will likely find it difficult to declare victory over the epidemic until China does. .
The The border between North Korea and China It has been largely closed for over two and a half years, save for a few months when it reopened earlier this year.
Some observers say North Korea’s increased response to the pandemic has provided Kim with a tool to bolster his authoritarian rule amid public complaints of long-standing restrictions. They say North Korea may report a small number of fever cases again in the coming days.
Foreign experts struggle to assess the true death toll in North Korea. They noted that North Korea’s lack of testing kits would make it nearly impossible for the country to determine whether elderly people or others with underlying illnesses died of COVID-19 or something else.
Shin, the university professor, stood by his previous study that predicted North Korea would likely suffer 100,000 to 150,000 deaths. He said he used South Korean data showing that the mortality rate for people not immunized to the omicron variant, which North Korea admitted to the outbreak in May, was 0.6%.
Other experts say the death toll in North Korea will be several thousand at most. They said that North Korea’s watchdog groups must have discovered more deaths.
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