- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2022

North Korea on Sunday acknowledged it was facing a spreading outbreak of COVID-19, after denying for more than a year that the virus had reached its shore.

The state-run Korean Center News Agency (KCNA) said in a terse statement that another 296,000 people had displayed a COVID-like fever over the previous 24 hours, and that 15 people had died.

Since acknowledging the virus had slipped past tight state controls, North Korea has now logged some 820,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 42 deaths just in recent weeks.

The North Korean Ministry of Public Health also announced Saturday it was switching over from “state epidemic prevention work to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system,” KNCA reported, dispatching officials to affected regions and opening more pharmacies around the country “so as to eliminate the source of the spread at an early date.”

Experts had long been deeply skeptical of the claims by the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un that the isolated communist state had kept COVID-19 entirely out of the country. The new official admission of cases and deaths is seen as a sign that either the outbreak has become too severe to hide or that the Kim regime is hoping to use the pandemic to win diplomatic or aid concessions.

Mr. Kim in a statement Saturday night said the spread of the new disease presented a “great upheaval” for the country.

In a meeting with senior aides, he also praised China’s controversial “zero-COVID” strategy, which seeks to stamp out all outbreaks of COVID and keep down fatalities through harsh population control and quarantine measures.

Experts say North Korea could prove particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, as its health system is stressed and it is believed that very few of the 26 million people who live there have been vaccinated.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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