North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered the army to help distribute medicine to the population, amid an outbreak of Covid.
More than a million people have fallen ill, but Pyongyang has only called the disease “fever”, according to state media.
About 50 people have died, but it is unclear how many of those people have tested positive for Covid. North Korea does not have many Covid tests, so there are few confirmed cases.
Analysts point out that North Koreans are more vulnerable to the virus due to lack of vaccines and the precariousness of the health system. A national lockdown is in place in the country.
State media said Kim Jong-un led an emergency meeting over the weekend, in which he accused health officials of disrupting the distribution of national drug supplies.
On Saturday (5/14), Kim Jong-un said the rapidly spreading Covid-19 outbreak is a “major disaster”.
“The spread of this evil epidemic is [o maior] disturbance to affect our country since its founding,” he told the official KCNA news agency.
Kim Jong-un imposed “maximum emergency”, with lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings in workplaces.
He ordered the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps to intervene to “immediately stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City”.
Photo of Kim Jong-un on June 18; North Korean government refused any type of vaccine — Photo: EPA/KCNA/BBC
South Korea offers help
The country announced its first confirmed Covid cases last week — although experts believe the virus has likely been circulating longer.
The international community offered to supply North Korea with millions of doses of AstraZeneca made in China last year, but Pyongyang said it brought Covid under control by closing its borders in early January 2020.
North Korea shares land borders with South Korea and China, which have both faced major outbreaks. China is now facing an omicron wave, with lockdowns in its major cities.
South Korea has offered to send aid to the North, including doses of vaccines, health workers and medical equipment.
In addition to the direct impact on health, there are fears about food production in North Korea, which has faced the problem of hunger since the 1990s. The World Food Program estimates that 11 million of the country’s 25 million people are undernourished.
If agricultural workers cannot tend the fields, analysts say, the consequences for the rest of the country will be extremely serious.