North Korea claims no new fever cases amid doubts over COVID-19 data – NBCNEWS

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North Korea on Saturday, for the first time, reported no new cases of fever since it was abruptly admitted to its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak and placed the 26 million people in May under more draconian restrictions.

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There are widespread outside doubts about the accuracy of North Korean statistics, as reported fatalities are too low and daily fevers have fallen too quickly of late.

Some experts say North Korea likely manipulated the scale of illness and deaths to help leader Kim Jong Un maintain absolute control amid mounting economic difficulties.

The North Epidemic Center said through state media it had found zero fever patients in the past 24 hours, keeping the country’s total caseload at about 4.8 million.

A teacher takes a schoolgirl’s body temperature to contain the spread of the coronavirus before she attends Kim Song Ju Primary School in the Central District in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP)

The death toll remains at 74, with a death rate of 0.0016 percent – ​​the world’s lowest, if true.

Despite the claimed zero cases, it’s unclear if and how soon North Korea would formally declare victory over COVID-19 and lift pandemic restrictions, as experts say it could experience a viral resurgence later this year, like many others. to land.

North Korea’s state media recently said it is stepping up and upgrading its anti-epidemic systems to guard against sub-variants of the coronavirus and other diseases such as monkey pox.

“The organizational strength and unity unique to the society of (North Korea) is fully expressed in the struggle to win a victory in the epidemic emergency campaign,” the official Korean Central News Agency said on Saturday.

North Korea’s claimed zero cases could have symbolic significance in its efforts to establish Kim’s image as a leader who has quelled the outbreak much faster than other countries.

Kim would need such credentials to gain more public support to overcome economic hardships caused by pandemic border closures, UN sanctions and his own mismanagement, observers say.

A visitor looks at the North Korean side from the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea. (AP)
Visitors look at the North Korea side from the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, near the border. (AP)

“In North Korea, public health care and politics cannot be separated, and that aspect has come to light again in the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website that focuses on focuses on health problems in North Korea.

“Since they started with manipulated data, they are now ending the manipulated data outbreak.”

North Korea was widely expected to claim zero cases, as the daily fever cases have plummeted in recent days — there were three reported cases on Friday and 11 on Thursday — from a peak of about 400,000 a day in May.

The country, which has no test kits, has identified only a fraction of its 4.8 million fever patients as confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The subvariants and mutations of COVID-19

“Realistically, it’s impossible for hundreds of thousands of daily fever cases to reach zero in less than three months,” said Lee Yo Han, a professor at South Korea’s Ajou University Graduate School of Public Health.

Many outside experts previously feared the outbreak from the north would have devastating consequences, as most people are believed to have not been vaccinated and are reported to be about 40 percent malnourished.

But now activists and defectors with contacts in North Korea say they’ve never heard of a humanitarian disaster. They say the country’s outbreak has probably also peaked.

In this photo of the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a pharmacy in Pyongyang. (AP)

Indicating a waning outbreak, North Korea has this week held massive maskless public events in the capital Pyongyang, where thousands of longtime Korean War veterans and others from across the country gathered to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the late 1950s. -53 war.

At an anniversary ceremony, Kim hugged and exchanged handshakes with some of the veterans before snapping group photos with other participants.

No one wore masks, according to state media photos.

Shin Young-jeon, a professor of preventive medicine at Hanyang University in Seoul, said North Korea would know that zero cases does not mean it has no COVID-19 patients, as there are likely to be asymptomatic cases.

He said North Korea is unlikely to announce any time soon that it has officially defeated the pandemic amid concerns about a resurgence.

“North Korea’s state media has already used expressions as if it is winning its anti-virus battle. The only other expression they can use now is to declare that the coronavirus has been completely eliminated from its territory,” Shin said.

“But if new cases surfaced again, North Korea would lose face.”

The only route for North Korea’s new viral spread from abroad is likely to be China, its main ally that shares a long, porous border, and North Korea would find it difficult to announce victory over the pandemic until China does. does, Lee said.

In this photo, published on June 28, 2022 by the North Korean government, North Korean workers disinfect a facility at an underground store in Pyongyang, North Korea. Independent journalists were denied access to report on the event depicted in this image, distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA”, which is the abbreviation for Korean Centra (AP)

The border between North Korea and China has been largely closed for more than 2.5 years, except for a few months when it reopened earlier this year.

Some observers say the North’s heightened pandemic response has given Kim a tool to bolster his authoritarian rule amid public complaints about long-term restrictions.

They say North Korea could report another small number of fever cases in the coming days.

Young people gather to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the signing of the ceasefire that ends fighting in the Korean War. (AP)

Foreign experts are struggling to estimate the true number of fatalities in North Korea.

They note that the shortage of test kits in the north would also make it virtually impossible for the country to determine whether the elderly or others with underlying illnesses have died from COVID-19 or something else.

Shin, the college professor, stuck to his previous study that predicted North Korea would likely suffer 100,000-150,000 deaths.

He said he used South Korean data showing that the death rate of unvaccinated people for the omicron variant, which North Korea admitted in May, was 0.6 percent.

Other experts say the number of fatalities in the north could be several thousand at most. They said larger death tolls must have been discovered by monitoring groups in North Korea.

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