SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — It’s only been a month since North Korea acknowledged an outbreak of COVID-19, after consistently denying any cases for more than two years. But maybe she is already preparing to declare victory.
North Korea has avoided mass deaths in a country with one of the world’s worst health care systems, little or no access to vaccines, and outsiders trying to ignore the suffering of its people, according to state media. See it as a long record.
Daily updates from official media make it seem inevitable that the nation will fully defeat a virus that has killed more than 6 million people worldwide. According to the official tally, cases are declining, and, while 18% of the country’s 26 million people reportedly had symptoms that outsiders suspected were from COVID=19, fewer than 100 died Is.
The South Korean government as well as some experts believe that North Korea may soon declare that it has defeated the virus, of course, linked to the strong and shrewd guidance of leader Kim Jong Un. Is.
However, a victory lap is not a foregone conclusion. Doing so would, according to some experts, deprive Kim of a useful tool to control the public and possibly open the government to humiliation if matters continue.
“There are two sides to such a declaration,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. “If North Korea says that COVID-19 is gone, it can insist that Kim Jong Un is a great leader who has overcome the pandemic. But in doing so, it cannot maintain the powerful restrictions it uses in the name of COVID-19 to control its people. ,
Outsiders suspect that Kim is using the outbreak to promote internal unity at a time when many of his people are tired of two-and-a-half years of harsh restrictions that have hurt their livelihoods.
Although North Korea deals with its description of the pandemic, many signs, at least in public statements, point to the announcement of a surprising success in tackling a virus that has confused the world’s richest countries.
In the early stages of the outbreak, Kim described a “great upheaval” as daily fever cases – North Korea rarely calls them COVID-19, possibly because it lacks testing kits – up to about 400,000. Reached. Now, however, leaders are suggesting the outbreak has peaked, with their health officials maintaining a widely disputed death rate of 0.002%, one of the lowest in the world.
Many outside experts are grappling with the question: What is the exact state of misery in North Korea, which has banned almost all outside journalists, aid workers and diplomats since the beginning of 2020?
North Korea is widely believed to be manipulating its actual mortality rate to protect Kim from any harm. It may have exaggerated the number of earlier fever cases to increase vigilance against the virus and garner strong public support for the authorities’ anti-virus controls. North Korea recently reported about 17,000 to 30,000 new fever cases every day for a total of 4.7 million. It says – to widespread outside disbelief – that only 73 are dead.
Whatever the actual situation, external watchdog groups say they see no signs of devastation in North Korea.
“If there had been a large number of people killed, there would have been some evidence, but none,” said Professor Nam Sung-wook from Korea University in South Korea. For example, during a major famine in the 1990s, rumors of widespread deaths and dead bodies spread outside the country, to China and South Korea.
Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector in Seoul who runs a company that analyzes the North’s economy, said three of his contacts in the northern North Korean city of Hyeson told him during a phone call that most of his family members were suspicious. COVID-19 has suffered. Symptoms. But he said they told him that none of his relatives, neighbors and acquaintances had died of COVID-19, although he had heard rumors of such deaths in other cities.
“During the first phone conversation, a source of mine cried a little when she said that she was worried that some bad things might happen in her family (due to COVID-19). But now he and others have stabilized and sometimes laugh when we talk on the phone,” Kang said.
During a recent ruling party meeting, Kim said the country’s fight against the pandemic had gone through a phase of “unforeseen serious crisis”. State media have urged the public to rally firmly behind Kim to address the pandemic altogether.
Cho Jonghoon, a spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry that oversees ties with North Korea, told reporters last week that the North could announce a resolution to its COVID-19 crisis this month.
Nam, a South Korean professor, said the outbreak has subsided in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, but will likely continue in rural areas, where some people with symptoms are rushing out doors as they seek a living through market activities. rely on. There is no access to public rations.
“I think North Korea will declare victory over the pandemic a little later. It will lose face if it declares victory soon and new patients come in later,” Nam said.
The protester, Kang, said North Korean residents in Hyesan follow the government’s anti-epidemic orders and that some fever patients go out during the quarantine period.
Because North Korea believes the pandemic, UN sanctions and other economic difficulties will continue, there is little chance that it will lift major sanctions anytime soon, according to the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul. Professor Lim Eul-chul said.
“The United States and other countries have not declared an end to COVID-19 with advanced health care and medical systems. So it will be even more difficult for North Korea to do the same,” Lim said.
GAVI, the global vaccine alliance, said earlier this month that it understands North Korea has accepted an offer of vaccines from China. But North Korea has ignored South Korean and US offers of medical aid.
Despite its COVID-19 outbreak, North Korea has continued to test missiles this year. But it has yet to conduct the widely expected nuclear test, possibly due to concerns about a possible response from those battling the virus.
North Korea can officially declare victory over the virus when its daily fever cases and the pandemic situation in neighboring China drop significantly, said Ah Kyung, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website that focuses on health issues in North Korea. – said Su.
But he said such a declaration didn’t mean much because North Korea acknowledged the outbreak only last month after it determined it was manageable.
“According to North Korea, it defeats everything. It does not accept the things it cannot overcome. It always wins outright, whether in the face of military, economic or pandemic difficulties,” Ah said.