North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the military to stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang days after announcing a lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korea acknowledged for the first time last week that it is battling an “explosive” COVID-19 outbreak, with experts raising concerns that the virus could devastate a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine programme.
The country reported 392,920 more people with fever symptoms, with eight new deaths, the state news agency said.
It did not report how many of those suspected cases had tested positive for COVID-19. North Korea has no COVID vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass-testing capacity.
Kim Jong Un’s administration has insisted the country was coronavirus-free until a few days ago.
State media says 50 people have now died – and more than a million workers have been mobilised to stop the spread.
At the emergency politburo meeting, held on Sunday, Kim criticised the “irresponsible” work attitude and organising and executing ability of the Cabinet and the public health sector, KCNA reported.
North Korea implements nationwide COVID lockdown
“Officials of the Cabinet and public health sector in charge of the supply have not rolled up their sleeves, not properly recognizing the present crisis but only talking about the spirit of devotedly serving the people,” KCNA said Kim had told officials.
The government had ordered the distribution of its national medicine reserves but Kim said the drugs procured by the state are not reaching people in a timely and accurate manner through pharmacies, the report said.
Kim ordered that the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps be deployed to “immediately stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City.”
KCNA also reported that Kim visited pharmacies located near the Taedong River in Pyongyang to find out about the supply and sales of drugs.
Kim said pharmacies are not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, there are no adequate drug storage areas other than the showcases, and the salespeople were not equipped with proper sanitary clothing.
North Korea has said that a “large proportion” of the deaths so far have been due to people “careless in taking drugs due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of stealth Omicron variant virus infection disease and its correct treatment method.”
While North Korea has maintained a rigid coronavirus blockade since the pandemic’s start, experts have said that Omicron outbreaks in the region meant it was only a matter of time before COVID spread to the country.