North Korea seeks to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID counts

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials discussed revising strict restrictions to fight the epidemic during a meeting on Sunday, state media reported, as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the first COVID-19 outbreak was Country eruption slowed.

Discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting suggests it will soon ease a series of draconian restrictions imposed after its admission of the Omicron outbreak earlier this month over concerns about its food and economic health.

During the meeting, Kim and other bureau members “made a positive assessment of the pandemic situation, which is being controlled and improved across the country,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.

KCNA said the bureau has “examined the issue of effectively and expeditiously coordinating and enforcing anti-epidemic regulations and policies in light of the current stable anti-epidemic situation.”

On Sunday, North Korea reported 89,500 new patients with fever symptoms, bringing the country’s total to 3.4 million. It was not said if there were any other deaths. The country’s last death toll reported on Friday was 69, giving it a 0.002% fatality rate, an extremely low figure that no other country, including advanced economies, has reported fighting COVID-19.

Many outside experts say North Korea clearly underestimated its death toll to prevent political damage to Kim at home. They say North Korea should have suffered many more deaths because its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated against COVID-19 and it is unable to treat patients with critical conditions. Others suggest North Korea may have exaggerated its past fever cases to try to tighten its internal control over its population.

Since its admission of the Omicron outbreak on May 12, North Korea has only reported the number of patients with febrile symptoms every day but not those with COVID-19, apparently due to a lack of testing kits to confirm large numbers of coronavirus cases.

However, many outside health experts consider most of the reported fever cases to be COVID-19 and say North Korean authorities know how to distinguish the symptoms from fevers caused by other common infectious diseases.

The outbreak has forced North Korea to impose a nationwide lockdown, isolating all work and living units and banning movement from region to region. The country still allows vital agricultural, construction and other industrial activities, but the severe restrictions have raised concerns about its food insecurity and a fragile economy, already badly hit by pandemic-related border closures.

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