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North Korea rolls back lockdown, says virus flareup ‘controlled’

A doctor (R) from the Korean People's Army visits a pharmacy to give a woman prescription medicine in Pyongyang. (KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

North Korea removed virus lockdown measures that had been in place for more than two weeks in its capital, news reports indicated, after saying policies by leader Kim Jong Un have controlled the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak.

Kim’s regime has partially lifted the lockdown in Pyongyang and eased curbs in “stabilized areas,” Yonhap News Agency of South Korea on Monday reported diplomatic sources as saying. Residents in Pyongyang were allowed to leave their homes for the first time since May 12 and business were slowly opening, NK News on Sunday reported sources in the isolated state as saying.

North Korea has not allowed in outside workers to help with the pandemic or verify any of its numbers for the public health crisis that could have overwhelmed its antiquated medical system — and posed a threat to Kim’s regime. It and Eritrea are the only two countries that have not administered vaccines, putting their people at increased risk.

Kim rolled back lockdown measures hours after leading a Politburo meeting Sunday, NK News said. The state’s official media said the same day “the pandemic situation is being controlled and improved across the country,” with another report saying daily cases have fallen by about 75% from a peak of 392,920 two weeks ago.

Residents still required to undergo “temperature checks, use hand sanitizer and follow the instructions of pandemic response workers,” NK News added.

North Korea has not called the hundreds of thousands of fever cases “COVID,” likely because it doesn’t have enough testing kits to confirm that the cases were caused by the coronavirus.

Kim mobilized troops to try contain the spread of what the state calls a “malicious” epidemic and his propaganda apparatus kicked into high gear in a campaign to stop the spread. State media has tried to portray as Kim pushing ahead with pandemic control efforts and pinned the blame for shortcomings on cadres who have not followed his guidance.

North Korea previously said it had escaped the pandemic — a claim doubted by officials in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere. Kim was probably forced to admit there was a problem when a spread of infections in Pyongyang this month became too big to hide, analysts said.

Kim, meanwhile, has been putting on a display of the country’s military might. His state fired off three ballistic missiles on May 12, a few hours after saying it had COVID-19 in its borders the first time. It fired another barrage of three missiles on May 25, just hours after U.S. President Joe Biden wrapped up a visit to the region, testing his efforts to strengthen defense ties with South Korea and Japan.

The easing of the lockdown comes after China reported new COVID-19 cases in cities bordering North Korea. The U.S. and South Korea have offered to provide COVID vaccines to North Korea, but Pyongyang is yet to respond to the offer, according to Washington and Seoul.


© 2022 Bloomberg L.P
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