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Coronavirus

Kim tells North Korea military to 'stabilize' drug supply amid COVID

Country reports 392,000 people with fever and 8 new deaths

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wears a face mask while inspecting a pharmacy in Pyongyang, in this undated photo released on May 15. (KCNA via Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided an emergency politburo meeting and ordered the military be used to stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang as the country battles its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported on Monday.

North Korea acknowledged for the first time last week that it is battling an "explosive" COVID-19 outbreak, with experts raising concerns that the virus could devastate a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine program.

At the emergency politburo meeting held on Sunday, Kim criticized the "irresponsible" work attitude and organizing and executing ability of the Cabinet and the public health sector, state news agency KCNA reported.

The government had ordered the distribution of its national medicine reserves but Kim said the drugs procured by the state are not reaching people in a timely and accurate manner through pharmacies, the report said.

Kim ordered that the "powerful forces" of the army's medical corps be deployed to "immediately stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City."

KCNA also reported that Kim visited pharmacies located near the Taedong River in Pyongyang to find out about the supply and sales of drugs.

Kim said pharmacies are not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, there are no adequate drug storage areas other than the showcases, and the salespeople were not equipped with proper sanitary clothing.

North Korea has said that a "large proportion" of the deaths so far have been due to people "careless in taking drugs due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of the stealth omicron variant virus infection disease and its correct treatment method."

The country reported 392,920 more people with fever symptoms, with eight new deaths, KCNA said.

It did not report how many of those suspected cases had tested positive for COVID-19.

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