Kim Jong Un urges North Koreans to keep up coronavirus fight

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reaffirmed Pyongyang’s claim to not have had a single case of COVID-19. (KCNA via Reuters)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Kim Jong Un urges North Koreans to keep up coronavirus fight

  • Outsiders widely doubt North Korea escaped the coronavirus pandemic entirely
  • Country’s self-imposed lockdown is hurting an economy already battered by stringent US-led sanctions

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged officials to maintain alertness against the coronavirus, warning that complacency risked “unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” state media said Friday.
Despite the warning, Kim reaffirmed North Korea’s claim to not have had a single case of COVID-19, telling a ruling party meeting Thursday that the country has “thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus” despite the worldwide health crisis, the Korean Central News Agency said.
Outsiders widely doubt North Korea escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and close trade and travel ties to China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year.
Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with similar symptoms to the disease.
Experts say the country’s self-imposed lockdown is hurting an economy already battered by stringent US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
The KCNA report said Kim during the politburo meeting of the Workers’ Party “stressed the need to maintain maximum alert without a slight self-complacence or relaxation” as the virus continues to spread in neighboring countries.
The agency said Kim sharply criticized inattentiveness among officials and violations of emergency anti-virus rules and warned that a “hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis.”
The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos of Kim at the meeting, which were the first state media images of him in weeks. Neither Kim nor the ruling party officials who participated were wearing masks.
Kim’s recent statement suggests North Korea’s stringent border closure with China, its biggest trading partner and economic pipeline, will likely continue despite the toll that is taking on the already heavily sanctioned economy.
Even before the pandemic, North Korea was grappling with the pain of UN sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. Its trade volume with China in 2019 was more than halved compared with 2016 figures, after new UN sanctions targeting the North’s major export items such as coal, textiles and seafood were adopted in recent years.
Kim was desperate to win sanctions relief when he engaged in a flurry of diplomacy with the United States, including three summits with President Donald Trump, in 2018 and 2019.
But those efforts have made little headway since the second Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam in February 2019 ended when Trump rejected Kim’s demands for extensive sanctions relief in return for partial denuclearization.
Last year, Kim launched an ambitious five-year national development plan, but experts say the coronavirus crisis likely thwarted some of his major economic goals. Kim in December declared a “frontal breakthrough” against the sanctions while urging his nation to stay resilient in the struggle for economic self-reliance.
North Korea monitoring groups in Seoul recently said the price of rice and key commodities and foreign exchange rates in markets in Pyongyang remain stable. Ahn Kyung-su, head of the Seoul-based private dprkhealth.org institute, which focuses on health issues in the North, said there could be Chinese aid shipments and unofficial bilateral trade taking place that isn’t reflected in official trade figures.
While all borders of North Korea continue to remain mostly closed, goods are being transported into the country through a few channels, including a sea route from the Chinese city of Dalian and the North Korean port of Nampo, Salvador said. He said medical supplies have been prioritized.


COVID-19 spread harder to control without common effort says French PM as daily cases double

Updated 11 August 2020

COVID-19 spread harder to control without common effort says French PM as daily cases double

  • French health authorities reported 1,397 new COVID-19 infections over 24 hours on Tuesday
  • New clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices

PARIS: The renewed spread of coronavirus in France could become harder to control without a collective effort to stop a rise in the infection rate, its prime minister said on Tuesday.
The public was becoming careless, Jean Castex warned, after official data recorded nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases from Saturday to Monday. The epidemic has now killed more than 30,300 people in France.
French health authorities reported 1,397 new COVID-19 infections over 24 hours on Tuesday, almost twice Monday’s tally.
The Health Ministry website said there were 15 new deaths in hospital due the disease, compared to an increase of 16 over a three-day period between Monday and Saturday,
“If we don’t act collectively, we expose ourselves to the heightened risk that the rebound in the epidemic becomes hard to control,” Castex said during a visit to a hospital intensive care ward in southern France.
France’s 7-day moving average of new infections climbed to 1,640 on Monday from 1,056 on July 31. The 7-day measure reached a post lockdown low of 272 on May 27, a little over 2 weeks after the government eased one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
But as in most neighboring European countries, new clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices and France is desperate to avoid another full-scale lockdown.
Britain has said it will not hesitate putting more countries on its quarantine list, including France, where hordes of Britons spend their summer vacations.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron held a video conference with top ministers from his Riviera summer retreat.
During the meeting, it was decided France would draw up new restrictions for the 20 largest cities to curb the rising infection rate and that a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people would be extended until Oct. 31.
Some cities have already taken action. Paris on Monday joined Toulouse, Lille, Biarritz and others in imposing a mandatory face mask order in crowded outdoor zones. They are already compulsory nationwide in shops and banks.
The prime minister said testing was “more than satisfactory,” with more than 600,000 tests being conducted weekly, but said more could still be done to target those with symptoms, the prime minister said.
Talking of the risk of another lockdown, Castex said: “no one wants to live through that again.”