North Korea COVID: Leader Kim Jong-un concedes coronavirus is spreading rapidly in his country

Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said on Saturday the spread of COVID-19 had thrust his country into “great turmoil” and called for an all-out battle to overcome the outbreak, as 21 daily deaths were reported among people with fever.

The isolated country this week acknowledged that it is facing a COVID outbreak for the first time, imposing a nationwide lockdown. But there was no sign of a rigorous testing or treatment campaign in North Korea’s rudimentary healthcare system.

Kim Jong-un attends a meeting on anti-virus strategies in Pyongyang on May 14.Credit:KCNA via AP

“The spread of the malignant epidemic is a great turmoil to fall on our country since the founding,” Kim told an emergency meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to state news agency KCNA.

“But if we don’t lose focus in implementing epidemic policy and maintain strong organisation power and control based on single-minded unity of the party and the people and strengthen our epidemic battle, we can more than overcome the crisis.”

Since late April, 524,440 people have shown signs of fever including 174,440 new cases on Friday, KCNA said. About 243,630 have been treated but KCNA has not said how many people have been tested or confirmed the total number of COVID cases.

North Korea has been testing about 1,400 people a week, according to Harvard Medical School’s Kee Park, who has worked on healthcare projects in the country, not nearly enough to survey the hundreds of thousands of people with symptoms.

Kim told the meeting the crisis had been caused by the incompetence and irresponsibility of party organisations but transmission was not uncontrollable and the country must have faith in its battle to overcome the crisis in the shortest possible period.

The meeting also heard a report from epidemic control officials that “in most cases, human casualties were caused by negligence including drug overdose due to lack of knowledge of treatment methods”.

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