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VOA Asia Weekly: Assessing North Korea’s COVID Outbreak

VOA Asia Weekly: Assessing North Korea’s COVID Outbreak
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China helps Cambodia upgrade a military base, and China also appears ready to unveil a new aircraft carrier. WHO says COVID outbreak in North Korea is worsening. Why Top Gun: Maverick won’t play in the world's largest movie market.

COVID outbreak worsens in North Korea.

Hello and welcome to VOA Asia Weekly. I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington. That story in a bit.

But first, making headlines.

Cambodia and China broke ground on a Beijing-funded project to revamp the Ream naval base, which the U.S. fears is intended for Chinese military use.

China's most advanced aircraft carrier to date appears near completion, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed, and experts said the ship could be launched soon.

The U.S. House committee investigating the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has started to reveal its findings in a series of hearings.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries launched eight ballistic missiles into the sea Monday in a show of force matching a North Korean missile display a day earlier.

The World Health Organization says it appears North Korea’s coronavirus outbreak is getting worse. That contradicts recent claims by North Korea’s government, which only recently admitted it is dealing with COVID-19 at all. VOA’s Bill Gallo has more.

Almost two and a half years into the coronavirus pandemic, this is still as close as outsiders can get to North Korea.

At this South Korean observatory, you can peer across the border.

Searching for even the smallest clues about how the country is coping with COVID-19.

There are no obvious signs of a lockdown, at least in this small farming village.

“North Korea recently admitted for the first time that it is dealing with a COVID outbreak. But the true extent of its pandemic situation is just as unclear as ever.”

State media have reported about 4 million fever cases, but only about 70 deaths. That would be the best COVID-19 fatality rate in the world.

But it’s not clear all those fever cases are COVID-19, likely because North Korea doesn’t have enough tests.

“Before they used to have some supplies, PCR tests, provided I think by the WHO, but I don’t think they have it now, or maybe they have very few.”

Even with incomplete data, North Korean officials insist the situation is improving. They say daily infection rates have plummeted.

But the World Health Organization says it sees no evidence of that claim.

“We assume that situation is getting worse, not better. But again, it is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we don't have access to the necessary data.”

North Korea has repeatedly ignored international offers of COVID-19 vaccines and other help, though reports suggest it may have recently received some aid from China.

In the meantime, state media urge citizens to drink herbal tea, take pain relievers, and gargle with salt water – signs the country doesn’t have what it takes to handle a major epidemic.

“Not enough medicine, not enough equipment. Not enough anything – even electricity is not always there.

For now, North Korea remains completely shut off from the rest of the world, fighting the pandemic in its own unique way.

Bill Gallo. VOA News. Aegibong, South Korea.

Visit our website for the most up-to-date news. This is VOA Asia Weekly.

Finally, the movie Top Gun: Maverick is a big box office hit even though it likely won’t be seen in China, the world’s largest movie market.

That’s because Tom Cruise’s character wears a bomber jacket with a patch bearing the flags of Japan and Taiwan.

In the 2019 trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, the patch was apparently altered to replace the Japanese and Taiwanese flags. Some thought the move was to appease China’s censors and help ensure the film’s release there.

According to movie industry executive Chris Fenton, the film’s Chinese backer, Tencent, and the Chinese government pushed for both the Japan and Taiwan flag to be edited out not just for China, but for moviegoers throughout the rest of the world.

Tencent pulled its financing from the movie after Cruise and the studio, Paramount, both objected.

So far, Top Gun: Maverick has made more than $550 million dollars globally.

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly. I’m Chris Casquejo. See you next week.