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Tea and infomercials: North Korea fights COVID with few tools

Published:Friday | May 20, 2022 | 12:12 AM
An employee of Songyo Knitwear Factory in Songyo district disinfects the work floor in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, after the country’s leader Kim Jong Un said Tuesday his party would treat the country’s coronavirus outbreak under the state emerg
An employee of Songyo Knitwear Factory in Songyo district disinfects the work floor in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, after the country’s leader Kim Jong Un said Tuesday his party would treat the country’s coronavirus outbreak under the state emergency.

SEOUL (AP):

ON A recent nighttime visit to a drugstore, a double-masked Kim Jong Un lamented the slow delivery of medicine. Separately, the North Korean leader’s lieutenants have quarantined hundreds of thousands of suspected COVID-19 patients and urged people with mild symptoms to take willow leaf or honeysuckle tea.

Despite what the North’s propaganda is describing as an all-out effort, the fear is palpable among citizens, according to defectors in South Korea with contacts in the North, and some outside observers worry the outbreak may get much worse, with much of an impoverished, unvaccinated population left without enough hospital care and struggling to afford even simple medicine.

“North Koreans know so many people around the world have died because of COVID-19, so they have fear that some of them could die, too,” said Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector, citing her phone calls with contacts in the northern North Korean city of Hyesan. She said people who can afford it are buying traditional medicine to deal with their anxieties.