NK’s suspected virus caseload nears two million


SEOUL: North Korea reported 262,270 more suspected Covid-19 cases as its pandemic caseload neared two million – a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.

The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported since the country lacks virus tests and other health care resources and may be under-reporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters yesterday reported a single additional death, raising its toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of infections.

The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. Most are believed to have Covid-19, though only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.

North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March.

Experts don’t believe the Covid-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12 and has described a rapid spread since.

Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval,” berated officials for letting the virus spread and restricted the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions. — AP

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