North Korea has mobilized its military to help stop the spread of COVID-19, state media said, as nearly 270,000 more people came down with fever in a single day.
Six people had died, state media added, bringing the official death toll to 56. Over 1,483,060 have become sick since monitoring began in late April, accounting for 5.7% of North Korea’s population.
Experts believe the actual impact of the suspected omicron variant transmission is substantially higher than the figures suggest. The isolated country has limited testing capability and has kept its borders shuttered since early 2020. It was unclear how many of the newly sickened had COVID-19.
One day after leader Kim Jong Un had chastised his officials for their “irresponsible executing ability” in stocking the state’s pharmacies of medicines, the state-run Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, on Tuesday reported nationwide action in preparation for the struggle ahead.
Showing men in military fatigues, black masks and red cross armbands, KCNA reported that soldiers pledged their allegiance to “defuse the public health crisis prevailing over the capital city of Pyongyang.”
They declared the work of transporting and supplying medicines was more than practical work; it was “notable patriotic work for conveying the warm sincerity of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un to the people,” and that they would “surely emerge victorious in the anti-epidemic campaign.”
High-ranking officials of the politburo inspected pharmacies in multiple districts, as factories boosted their production of needed medicines and medical supplies, KCNA said. Some 11,000 medical teachers, students and officials canvassed the country on Monday in search of “fevered persons” to treat.
Even as North Korea reports high infection figures, it has yet to respond to South Korea’s offer to help.
Seoul’s unification ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, on Monday had sent an invitation proposing working-level talks on how the South can assist in the North’s anti-epidemic efforts.
The message, signed by South Korea’s new Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, said Seoul stood ready to help with testing kits, medication, masks and vaccines, urging Pyongyang’s fast response to limit the damage done by the disease.
The omicron variant had driven up South Korea’s COVID-19 levels to a peak of more than 600,000 daily cases in mid-March, a spike from which the country says it is now making a “smooth landing,” as it removes the last of quarantine restrictions.