The World Health Organization has cast doubt on North Korea’s claims of progress in the fight against a Covid-19 outbreak, saying it believes the situation is getting worse, not better, in the midst of an absence of independent data.
North Korean state media have claimed that the Covid wave has subsided after the daily number of people with fever peaked at 390,000 about two weeks ago.
Pyongyang has never directly confirmed how many people have tested positive for the virus, but experts suspect underreporting in the figures released through government-controlled media, making it difficult to assess the scale of the situation.
“We assume the situation is getting worse, not better,” World Health Organization (WHO) emergency chief Michael Ryan said during a video briefing on Wednesday.
He said the WHO did not have access to any privileged information other than the figures publicly reported by state media.
“We have real problems accessing the raw data and the actual situation on the ground,” Ryan said, adding that the WHO was working with South Korea and China to try to get a better picture and in an attempt to get help. in.
North Korea has rejected jabs offered by the WHO and not vaccinated any of its approximately 25 million people.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported early Thursday 96,600 “fever cases” in 24 hours, for a total of 3.8 million cases since the end of April. No new deaths were announced with 69 deaths at the end of last week.
It was the third daily figure in a row below 100,000, down from a maximum of 390,000 daily cases in mid-May, South Korea’s news agency Yonhap reported.
Despite having one of the worst healthcare systems in the world, the KCNA reported on Thursday that more than 95% of cases had recovered.
Ryan stressed the importance of curbing the outbreak in the poor country. “We have offered help on several occasions. We have offered vaccines on three different occasions. We continue to offer,” he said.
He said the UN health agency has repeatedly warned against allowing the virus that causes Covid-19 to spread uncontrollably, in part because it is more likely to mutate and produce new, potentially more dangerous variants.
“We do not want to see intense transmission of this disease in a primarily susceptible population, in a health system that is already weakened,” Ryan said. “This is not, it’s not good for the people [North Korea]. It is not good for the region. It’s not good for the world. “
The KCNA said the provinces “intensified” their anti-epidemic campaigns, including enforcing some roadblocks and coastal blockades, increasing the production of drugs and medical supplies, and carrying out disinfection work. Key work as agriculture continued, it claimed.
North Korean Prime Minister Kim Tok-hun inspected a couple of pharmaceutical factories, amid a push to bring the country’s pharmaceutical industry to a “new high level”, including meeting international standards, the KCNA reported. “Adequate production and supply of medicines serve as a precondition for protecting people’s lives and health in the current severe anti-epidemic campaign,” he said.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report