North, confident in battle with Covid-19, mum on vaccine offer
U.S. President Joe Biden said Saturday in Seoul that North Korea has not responded to a U.S. offer of Covid-19 vaccines as Pyongyang's state media claimed the country is turning the corner in its first acknowledged outbreak.
Biden announced the offer at a press conference in South Korea, where he is undertaking a three-day visit, the first since President Yoon Suk-yeol took office.
"We've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well, and we're prepared to do that immediately," Biden said in an appearance with Yoon following summit talks.
"We've got no response," he added.
North Korea previously turned down offers of vaccines from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing scheme. The secretive regime also failed to respond to a formal overture from South Korea that included offers of protective gear and testing equipment.
The North's anti-disease headquarters reported that approximately 180,000 individuals exhibited fevers and other Covid-19 symptoms in the 24 hours through Saturday at 6 p.m.
One additional fatality was reported, bringing the total death toll to 67.
The North has reported 2,646,730 cases of people with fevers since it acknowledged a suspected Covid-19 outbreak that it said began at the end of last month.
Because of its limited testing capacity, the North is reporting people with symptoms rather than confirmed infections.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that approximately 78 percent of those with fevers, or 2,067,270 people, have recovered since developing symptoms.
The suspected Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea — the first to be acknowledged by state authorities since the pandemic began in January 2020 — has led to travel restrictions between regions.
Case numbers in the North exploded over the past week, with reports of 296,180 people with fever symptoms in the 24 hours through May 15 at 6 p.m.
Daily cases appeared to plateau mid-week, as the North Korea reported 260,000 new cases of people with fever symptoms on Wednesday and 220,000 new cases on Friday.
The stabilizing daily number of cases appeared to give confidence to the isolated regime that it could weather the unexpected mass outbreak.
At a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party Politburo on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the work of the state anti-disease headquarters was yielding a "a positive trend," according to the Rodong Sinmun party newspaper.
"As the nationwide anti-disease struggle unfolds, transmission nationwide is gradually being suppressed, with the number of recovered patients increasing day by day, while the number of deaths appears to be declining continuously," the Politburo said in a statement carried by the newspaper.
As the state media published reassuring reports on the Covid-19 situation, Kim spoke about the economy.
According to the Rodong Sinmun, he ordered measures "to revitalize the economy as a whole."
His comments carried by the newspaper also suggested a sense of triumph.
"The achievements in the current anti-disease war are the fruits of our party's accurate leadership, the political and ideological superiority of our socialist system, and its unique organizational power and unity," the North Korean leader was reported as saying.
The statements by the North's political leadership nevertheless belie the fragile state of the country's current healthcare system and the ability of its population to withstand a wide-ranging outbreak within its borders.
The North Korean populace is not vaccinated against Covid-19, while most of the country's hospitals and clinics are deprived of basic medicines and equipment.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]