By Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korean leader Kim Jong Un slammed his country’s response to its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak as immature, accusing government officials of inadequacies and inertia as fever cases swept the country, state media reported on Wednesday.
North Korea reported 232,880 more people with fever symptoms, and six more deaths after country revealed the COVID outbreak last week. It did not say how many people had tested positive for COVID-19.
Presiding over a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Tuesday, Kim said the “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis” increased the “complexity and hardships” in fighting the pandemic, according to KCNA.
Since its first acknowledgement of the COVID-19 outbreak, the North has reported 1.72 million patients with fever symptoms, including 62 deaths as of Tuesday evening.
Yet the North also said the country’s virus situation was taking a “favourable turn,” adding the party meeting discussed “maintaining the good chance in the overall epidemic prevention front.”
The report did not elaborate on what grounds the North came to such a positive assessment. The country has not started mass vaccinations and has limited testing capabilities, leaving many experts concerned it may be difficult to assess how widely and rapidly the disease is spreading.
According to KCNA, North Korea has been pushing to better handle “the collection, transport and test of specimen from those persons with fever, while installing additional quarantine facilities.”
KCNA also said health officials have developed a COVID-19 treatment guide aimed at preventing drug overdoses and other problems.
Officials and researchers have stepped up efforts to “massively develop and produce drugs effective in the treatment of the malignant virus infection and establish more rational diagnosis and treatment methods,” but KCNA did not give details on which drugs were involved.
In the face of an “explosive” COVID-19 outbreak, North Korea has mobilised its armed forces, including 3,000 military medical staff, for a 24-hour medicine delivery system, with 500 response groups to confirm and treat infected patients, state media said.
State television showed large numbers of troops gathered in a square to support anti-virus work.
A spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday that measures taken by Pyongyang to fight COVID-19 could have “devastating” consequences for human rights in the country, as restrictions to curb the virus could limit people from getting enough food and meeting other basic needs.
South Korea has offered to send medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits, as well as technical cooperation, to the North but Pyongyang has yet to respond.
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Josh Smith; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis and Gerry Doyle)