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North Korea reports more fevers as Kim claims virus progress

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korea said yesterday it found nearly 220,000 more people with feverish symptoms, even as leader Kim Jong-un claimed progress in slowing a largely undiagnosed spread of COVID-19 across his unvaccinated populace and hinted at easing virus restrictions to nurse a decaying economy.

The outbreak has caused concern about serious tragedies in the poor, isolated country with one of the world’s worst healthcare systems and a high tolerance for civilian suffering.

Experts said North Korea is almost certainly downplaying the true scale of the viral spread, including a strangely small death toll, to soften the political blow on Kim as he navigates the toughest moment in his decade of rule.

Around 219,030 North Koreans with fevers were identified in the 24 hours through 6pm on Friday, the fifth straight daily increase of around 200,000, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which attributed the information to the government’s anti-virus headquarters.

North Korea said more than 2.4 million people have fallen ill and 66 people have died since an unidentified fever began quickly spreading in late April, although the country has only been able to identify a handful of those cases as COVID-19 due to a lack of testing supplies. After maintaining a dubious claim for two-and-a-half years that it had perfectly blocked the virus from entering its territory, the North admitted to Omicron infections last week.

Amid a paucity of public health tools, the North has mobilised more than a million health workers to find people with fevers and isolate them at quarantine facilities. Kim also imposed strict restrictions on travel between cities and towns and mobilised thousands of troops to help with the transport of medicine to pharmacies in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, which has been the centre of the outbreak.

During a ruling party Politburo meeting yesterday, Kim insisted the country was starting to bring the outbreak under control and called for tightened vigilance to maintain the “affirmative trend” in the anti-virus campaign, KCNA said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a ruling party politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea. PHOTO: AP