North Korea: military deployed to help fight Covid epidemic
Sylvie Claire / May 17, 2022
Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered a nationwide lockdown to try to stop the spread of the virus in the country, whose population is unvaccinated, and deployed the military to help fight the outbreak, whose management he has criticized. Hundreds of service members of the Korean People's Army, dressed in camouflage, were seen gathering in the capital Pyongyang in photos published by KCNA.
The military urgently deployed its powerful forces to all pharmacies in Pyongyang city and started providing medicines in a 24-hour service, KCNA said. Kim Jong Un on Monday sharply criticized the government and health authorities for their handling of the outbreak, particularly the failure to keep pharmacies open at all times. Since the country announced its first case of Covid last Thursday, the leader has taken personal charge of the fight against the epidemic, which he said is causing great upheaval in the country.
Authorities have reported more than 1.48 million cases of fever and 56 deaths since the outbreak of Covid in the country and at least 663,910 people are undergoing medical treatment, according to the same source.
Authorities have stepped up awareness campaigns in the media and pharmaceutical companies have increased production of drugs, KCNA said. North Korea's health care system was ranked 193rd out of 195 countries by a study by the U.S. Johns Hopkins University last year. The country's hospitals are notoriously under-equipped, with few intensive care units.
According to experts, the country has no treatment for Covid-19 and lacks the capacity to mass test its population. Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unvaccinated, there is virtually no medicine left in the country, and the health infrastructure is unable to cope with this pandemic, said Lina Yoon, a researcher on Korea at Human Rights Watch. She called on the international community to offer medicine, vaccines and infrastructure to North Korea.
So far, Pyongyang has not responded to Seoul's offer, according to the South Korean Ministry of Unification. South Korea's new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has taken a tougher stance than his predecessor on its nuclear-armed neighbor. On Monday, he told the National Assembly that he would not hesitate to provide the necessary assistance to the North Korean people" provided they accept it.
Despite the health crisis, new satellite images indicate that North Korea has resumed construction of a long-stalled nuclear reactor. Washington and Seoul suspect Pyongyang is preparing a nuclear test, reportedly its seventh in history and first since 2017, to distract the North Korean public from the health crisis.