North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has admitted the spread of COVID-19 has thrust his country into “great turmoil”, as the regime suffers a rapidly-rising death toll during its first reported COVID-19 outbreak.
The Pyongyang leader made an unprecedented admission on Sunday after 21 daily deaths were reported by the state media KCNA, bringing the total number of deaths linked to mysterious “fever cases” in the hermit kingdom to 42.
“The spread of the malignant epidemic is a great turmoil to fall on our country since the founding,” Mr Kim told an emergency meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the state news agency.
“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.”
The nation also reported 392,920 new illnesses related to the “fever” outbreak. Total infections across North Korea have ballooned to 820,620.
KCNA did not specify how many deaths and cases were confirmed to be COVID.
At the emergency politburo meeting, Mr Kim criticised the “irresponsible” work attitude and organising and executing ability of the cabinet and the public health sector, state news agency KCNA reported.
The government had ordered the distribution of its national medicine reserves. But Mr Kim said drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate manner through pharmacies, the report said on Monday.
He ordered the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps to be deployed to “immediately stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City”.
The regime said 496,030 people had recovered from the rapid spread of a fever consistent with COVID-19, and that 324,550 people remained in quarantine.
North Korea linked a “large proportion” of the deaths to people “careless in taking drugs due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of stealth Omicron variant virus infection disease and its correct treatment method”.
The wave of COVID-19 cases came after North Korea announced just last Thursday that it had identified its first case of COVID-19.
North Korea had previously claimed a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19 since the pandemic began two years ago, a claim widely doubted by outside experts.
On Thursday, the news agency said Mr Kim called a meeting of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s politburo, where members decided to raise its anti-virus measures.
Last week, North Korea imposed “maximum preventative measures” with nationwide lockdowns as Mr Kim described the outbreak as a historically “huge disruption” on Saturday.
Experts say a failure to control the spread of COVID could have devastating consequences in North Korea, considering the country’s poor health system. Its 26 million people are also largely unvaccinated.
– with AAP