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North Korea is fighting COVID with few tools

SEUL – During a recent night visit to a pharmacy, Kim Jong Un with a double mask complained about the slow delivery of drugs. Separately, the North Korean leader’s lieutenants quarantined hundreds of thousands of suspected COVID-19 patients and called on people with mild symptoms to take willow leaf or honeysuckle tea.

Despite what the North’s propaganda describes as a comprehensive effort, fear is palpable among citizens, according to deserters in South Korea with contacts in the North, and some outside observers worry the epidemic could worsen greatly, with much of the impoverishment unvaccinated. population left without sufficient hospital care and struggling to afford even simple medicines.

“North Koreans know that so many people around the world have died from COVID-19, so they fear that some of them may also die,” said Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean deserter, citing North Korean phone calls. the city of Hiesan. She said people who can afford it buy traditional medicine to deal with their worries.

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Since acknowledging what it called its first outbreak of COVID-19 a week ago, North Korea has struggled to deal with a growing health crisis that has heightened public concern about the virus, which it previously claimed to have kept away.

The country’s pandemic response appears to be largely focused on isolating suspected patients. This is probably all he can do, as he lacks vaccines, antiviral pills, intensive care units and other medical assets that guarantee the survival of millions of sick people in other countries.

North Korean health officials said Thursday that a rapidly spreading fever has killed 63 people and affected about 2 million others since late April, while about 740,000 remain in quarantine. Earlier this week, North Korea said it had a total of 168 cases of COVID-19, despite growing fever. Many foreign experts doubt the figures and say the scale of the epidemic has not been announced to prevent public unrest that could hurt Kim’s leadership.

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State media reported that one million public servants had been mobilized to identify suspected patients. Kim Jong Un also ordered army medics to be deployed to help deliver drugs to pharmacies just before visiting pharmacies in Pyongyang at dawn on Sunday.

North Korea also uses state media – newspapers, state television and radio – to offer advice on how to deal with the virus to citizens, most of whom do not have access to the Internet and foreign news.

“It is crucial to find anyone with symptoms of fever so that they can be isolated and treated to fundamentally block the areas where the infectious disease can spread,” said Ryu Yong Chol, an employee at Pyongyang’s antivirus headquarters. Television Wednesday.

State television aired commercials showing animated characters advising people to see a doctor if they have trouble breathing, spitting blood or fainting. They also explain what medications patients can take, including home remedies such as honey tea. The country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, advised people with mild symptoms to boil 4 to 5 grams of willow or honeysuckle leaves in hot water and drink it three times a day.

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“Their guidelines don’t make sense at all. It’s as if the government is asking people to contact doctors only if they have trouble breathing, which means just before they die, “said former North Korean agricultural official Cho Chung Hui, who fled to South Korea in 2011.” My heart aches when I think about it. ” for my brother and sister in North Korea and their suffering.

Kang, who runs a company analyzing North Korea’s economy, said her contacts in Hyesan had told her that North Koreans had been asked to read carefully Rodong Xingmun’s reports on how the country was working to stop the epidemic.

Since May 12, North Korea has banned travel between the regions, but has not tried to impose tighter blockades in imitation of China. North Korea’s economy is fragile due to the closure of pandemics and decades of mismanagement, so the country is encouraging the acceleration of agriculture, construction and other industrial activities. Khan said people in Hyesan still go to work.

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The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern this week about the consequences of North Korea’s quarantine measures, saying isolation and travel restrictions would have dire consequences for people already struggling to meet their basic needs, including to get enough food to eat.

“Children, nursing mothers, the elderly, the homeless and those living in more isolated rural and border areas are particularly vulnerable,” the office said in a statement.

Deserters in South Korea say they are worried about their loved ones in North Korea. They also suspect that COVID-19 had already spread to North Korea even before the outbreak was officially recognized.

“My father and brother and my sister are still in North Korea and I am very worried about them because they were not inoculated and there are not many medicines there,” said Kang Na-ra, who fled to South Korea in late 2014. She said her brother or sister told her during recent phone calls that their grandmother had died of pneumonia, which she said was caused by COVID-19 last September.

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Deserter Choi Song Juk said that when her North Korean farmer last called her in February, she said her daughter and many neighbors had suffered from coronavirus-like symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat. Choi said her sister pays brokers to arrange phone calls, but she hasn’t called recently, even though it’s around the time of year when she’s out of food and needs remittances through a network of brokers. Choi said the interruption was probably due to anti-virus restrictions on movement.

“I feel so sad. I have to contact her again because she has to be without food and pick wild vegetables,” said Choi, who left North Korea in 2015.

In recent years, Kim Jong Un has built some modern hospitals and improved medical systems, but critics say this is mostly for the country’s ruling elite and that free socialist medical care is in ruins. Recent deserters say there are many locally produced medicines on the market now, but they have quality problems, so people prefer South Korean, Chinese and Russian medicines. But foreign drugs are usually expensive, so the poor, who make up the majority of the North’s population, cannot afford them.

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“If you are sick in North Korea, we often say you will die,” Choi said.

Despite the outbreak, North Korea has not publicly responded to offers of medical assistance from South Korea and the United States. The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adanom Gebreyesus, said on Tuesday that the world body was “deeply concerned about the risk of further spread” in North Korea and the lack of information about the outbreak.

Choi Jung Hoon, a former North Korean doctor settling in South Korea, suspects North Korea is using its response to the pandemic as a tool to promote Kim’s image as a leader who cares for society and strengthens internal unity. He says the reduced deaths in the country can also be used as a propaganda tool.

“One day they will say they have detained COVID-19. Comparing the number of its victims with that in the United States and South Korea, they will say that they have done a really good job and that their anti-epidemic system is the best in the world, “said Choi, now a researcher at a Korean university. Institute in South Korea.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

North Korea is fighting COVID with few tools

Source link North Korea is fighting COVID with few tools

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