Kim demands prompt drug distribution as Covid-19 outbreak toll rises

Seoul, May 16 (EFE).- North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has rebuked officials and called for a prompt distribution of medicines amid an Covid-19 outbreak in the country which has already led to 50 deaths.

The country, which has reportedly not administered a single vaccine, recorded eight deaths and some 392,920 people with symptoms of fever on Sunday, state-run news agency KCNA reported on Monday.

This takes the total number of possible infections in the country to 1.21 million amid a lack of testing since the outbreak linked to the Omicron variant broke out in late April.

Of those 1.21 million, more than 648,000 have recovered and just under 565,000 are in treatment, according to KCNA.

A meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held in Pyongyang on Sunday, KCNA reported.

Kim, who chaired the meeting, said that the emergency order for the immediate and timely release and supply of state reserves of medicines to all pharmacies has not been properly implemented.

He “strongly criticized” the officials in charge of the operation, and said that they had “failed to exercise legal supervision and control” of the distribution process.

Kim also “issued an order of the chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission on immediately stabilizing the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City by involving the powerful forces of the military medical field of the People’s Army.”

The situation is worrying given the highly contagious nature of the detected Omicron variant and because the country, which last week ordered “all the cities and counties” into lockdown, had rejected the donation of almost 5 million vaccines in 2021 and still does not have a nationwide vaccination plan.

Pyongyang has not made any public calls for aid, including vaccines, although South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing sources close to the matter, that North Korea had requested support from China through diplomatic channels.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the new president of South Korea and whose government will propose talks to the regime this week to discuss the sending of humanitarian aid, said Monday that Seoul is willing to provide various kinds of support.

“If the North Korean authorities accept, we will not spare any necessary support, such as medicine, including Covid-19 vaccines, medical equipment and healthcare personnel,” Yoon said during his first budget speech at the National Assembly.

It is not known if the North Korean regime, which has carried out a record number of missile tests this year and appears to be preparing for a new nuclear test, would accept help from the South at a time when dialogue between the two countries is frozen.

Sending humanitarian aid to the North will also be one of the topics that Yoon and United States president Joe Biden will discuss when they meet in Seoul on Saturday. EFE


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