PYONGYANG — Kim Jong Un has criticized North Korea’s response to the pandemic and ordered the military to help distribute medicine, state media reported Monday.
The country has said 50 people have died since an initial outbreak of Covid-19 was reported recently.
More than a million people have contracted what Pyongyang calls a “fever”, state media said, despite leader Kim ordering nationwide shutdowns to slow the spread of the disease from the unvaccinated population.
In a sign of the seriousness of the situation, Kim “strongly” criticized health officials for what he called a sloppy response to epidemic prevention – in particular the failure to keep pharmacies open 24 hours a day, to dispense drugs.
He ordered the military to get to work “on immediately stabilizing the drug supply in Pyongyang”, the capital where Omicron was spotted in the first reported cases of COVID-19 in North Korea last week.
Kim has placed himself at the center of North Korea’s response to the disease, overseeing near-daily emergency Politburo meetings on the outbreak, which he says is causing “major upheaval” in the country.
The failure to distribute the drugs properly was due to “the inability of cabinet and public health officials to roll up their sleeves and properly recognize the current crisis,” Kim told state media KCNA.
Kim, who visited pharmacies to inspect them first-hand, “sharpened the Cabinet and the public health sector for their irresponsible work ethic,” KCNA said.
He also criticized shortcomings in official legal oversight and pointed to “several negative phenomena in the handling and sale of drugs nationwide”.
North Korea has one of the worst healthcare systems in the world, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units and no COVID treatment drugs or mass testing facilities, experts say.
“While visiting a pharmacy, Kim Jong Un saw with his own eyes the shortage of medicines in North Korea,” Cheong Seong-jang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, was quoted by AFP.
“He may have guessed, but the situation may have been more serious than he had anticipated.”
KCNA said a total of 50 people had died as of May 15, with 1,213,550 cases of “fever” and more than half a million currently receiving medical treatment.
North Korea had maintained a rigid coronavirus lockdown since the start of the pandemic, but with massive omicron outbreaks in neighboring countries, experts said it was inevitable that Covid would creep in.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP