Kim Jong-un sends in military as North Korea gripped by Covid panic

The North Korean leader visited pharmacies across the capital Pyongyang yesterday

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North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has sent in the military in an attempt to stabilise distribution of Covid-19 medicine in the country’s capital, Pyongyang.

Last week brought North Korea's first acknowledgment of an "explosive" outbreak, with experts warning it could devastate a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine programme.

Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people quickly or accurately.

Kim told an emergency committee meeting about the military intervention yesterday, before visiting pharmacies near the capital's Taedong River.

Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un inspecting a pharmacy in Pyongyang
Kim Jong-un inspecting a pharmacy in Pyongyang

Among their shortcomings were a lack of adequate drug storage, salespeople unequipped with the proper sanitary clothing and hygiene in their surroundings falling short of standards, the leader said.

He criticised the "irresponsible" work attitude, organisation and execution by the cabinet and the public health sector.

Seoul's unification ministry, responsible for cross-border relations, said it had proposed working-level talks to provide medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits, as well as technical cooperation, but that the North had not received its message.

The offer came shortly after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said he would spare no effort to help North Korea fight its outbreak, saying it was ready to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support.

Mr Suk-yeol said he would send humanitarian aid without political considerations, while expressing concerns over the North's recent missile launches and signs of preparations for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017.

"If North Korea responds, I would not save any necessary support for medicines including Covid vaccines, medical equipment and health personnel," he said in a speech to parliament.

North Korea's tally of the fever-stricken stood at 1,213,550, with 50 deaths by Sunday, after KCNA reported 392,920 more cases of fever, and eight more deaths. It did not say how many suspected infections had tested positive for COVID-19.