North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave

North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave
Gauging COVID-19 deaths from outside North Korea would require comparing excess mortality figures long after the wave dies down, but the North does not conduct annual census studies, a specialist says. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 May 2022

North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave

North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave
  • Isolated country is grappling with its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak
  • The WHO has warned the virus may spread rapidly in North Korea

SEOUL: North Korea has mobilized its military to distribute COVID-19 medications and deployed more than 10,000 health workers to help trace potential patients, as it fights a sweeping coronavirus wave, state media outlet KCNA said on Tuesday.
The isolated country is grappling with its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak, which it confirmed last week, fueling concerns over a major crisis due to a lack of vaccines and adequate medical infrastructure.
The state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters reported 269,510 more people with fever symptoms, bringing the total to 1.48 million, while the death toll grew by six to 56 as of Monday evening, KCNA said. It did not say how many people had tested positive for COVID-19.
The country has not started mass vaccinations and has limited testing capabilities, raising concerns that it may be difficult to assess how widely and rapidly the disease is spreading and verify the number of confirmed cases and deaths.
“The numbers are simply unreliable, but the sheer numbers of people having fever are worrisome,” said Lee Jae-gap, a professor of infectious diseases at Hallym University School of Medicine.
He said that the death count would surge over time, but that Pyongyang might be tempted to keep the publicly available numbers low to avoid a political crisis.
“I don’t think the North Korean regime can afford to release any surging death toll, which would sour public sentiment.”
Gauging COVID-19 deaths from outside North Korea would require comparing excess mortality figures long after the wave dies down, but the North does not conduct annual census studies, said Eom Joong-sik, a professor of infectious diseases at Gachon University Gil Medical Center in South Korea.
KCNA reported enhanced virus control efforts. It said “a powerful force” of the army’s medical corps was immediately deployed to improve the supply of medicines in the capital Pyongyang, the center of the epidemic, following an order by leader Kim Jong Un.
The team’s mission was aimed at “defusing the public health crisis” in Pyongyang, it said.
Some senior members of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo visited pharmacies and medicine management offices to check supply and demand, KCNA said in another dispatch, after Kim criticized ineffective distribution of drugs.
“They called for establishing a more strict order in keeping and handling the medical supplies, maintaining the principle of prioritising the demand and convenience of the people in the supply,” KCNA said.
Tracing efforts were also intensified, with some 11,000 health officials, teachers and medical students joining an “intensive medical examination of all inhabitants” across the country to locate and treat people with fever.
Still, various sectors of the national economy are maintaining production and construction, while taking thorough anti-virus measures, KCNA added. Kim had ordered that limited activity be allowed in each city and county.
The World Health Organization has warned the virus may spread rapidly in North Korea, which had no vaccination program and declined international help.
Many of the medicines being distributed there are painkillers and fever reducers such as ibuprofen, and amoxicillin and other antibiotics — which do not fight viruses but are sometimes prescribed for secondary bacterial infections. Home remedies such as gargling salt water have also been encouraged.
South Korea offered working-level talks on Monday to send medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits, as well as technical cooperation, but said the North had not acknowledged its message.
An official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said on Tuesday that there had been no reply yet from the North but that the office plans to “wait without pressing for a response.”
The US State Department said it was concerned about the outbreak’s potential impact on North Koreans, and supports vaccine aid to the country.
“We strongly support and encourage the efforts of US and international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 ... and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country,” a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson confirmed that the US envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, had a phone call with South Korea’s new nuclear negotiator, Kim Gunn, without elaborating.


UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half
Updated 02 July 2022

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.


African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
Updated 02 July 2022

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
  • The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported

HARARE: Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

FASTFACT

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the expanding monkeypox outbreak was worrying, but did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued spreading across more borders, showed signs of increased severity, or began infecting vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it hasn’t previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
The vaccines have mainly been developed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not authorized for use against monkeypox in Africa.
Vaccines have not previously been used to try to stamp out monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied mostly on measures like contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a press briefing Thursday.
WHO noted that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
WHO said last month it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear could see vaccines go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and who already have their own supplies.
While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been mostly identified in men who are gay, bisexual or sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the numbers of monkeypox cases were almost evenly split between men and women.
“We have not yet seen spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men.
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of catching monkeypox if they come into close, physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedsheets.
In Africa, monkeypox has mainly been spread to people from infected wild animals like rodents or primates.
It has not typically triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.


Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
Updated 02 July 2022

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
  • Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat, began his foreign service career in 1979
  • Prior to his new appointment, he served as the Philippine ambassador to the UN in New York 

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Manila’s UN Ambassador Enrique Manalo as the country’s new foreign affairs secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.  

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn into office on Thursday.

He has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy. 

Manalo is a career diplomat who has been serving as the Philippine permanent representative to the UN in New York and had twice served as the department’s undersecretary.  

BACKGROUND

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy.

“President Marcos appointed Secretary Manalo in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Marcos preferred a career diplomat to helm the department, the DFA said, so that the Philippines could “effectively advance its interests [on] the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.” 

Manalo took his oath on Friday at the presidential palace in Manila but will need a few days “to wind up affairs in his previous post,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a text message to reporters. 

His appointment is seen as reflecting Marcos’ choice to have an official who “truly understands the external challenges and opportunities” faced by the Philippines, Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News.

“A senior career foreign service officer brings that to the office,” he said.

“I hope Secretary Manalo focuses on broadening our engagements and partnerships with countries that believe in a multipolar world and a rules-based international order.”

Manalo, whose career in foreign service began in 1979, had also served as acting secretary of the DFA for two months in 2017 as well as Philippine ambassador to the UK and Belgium.

His appointment and that of other officials in Marcos’ cabinet would have to be approved by the appointments commission of the Philippine House of Representatives. 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 01 July 2022

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.


In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 01 July 2022

In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
  • Government on Thursday banned testing, surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools in Islamabad
  • Country says it will amend British-era regulations with ‘Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law’

ISLAMABAD: Shalin Gala, vice president at global animal rights advocacy group PETA, on Friday hailed “landmark” reforms in Pakistan that banned tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education, and said the organization would be working with the government on more critical reforms in training that would spare the lives of animals.

In a rare move to ensure animal rights in Pakistan, the government on Thursday banned testing and surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools and industrial complexes in the federal capital, Islamabad, and announced a 15,000 rupee ($74) fine and jail term for animal cruelty offenders.

The decision came after widespread outrage in Pakistan over videos that went viral in May showing animals in various states of distress after allegedly being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action.

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade, but an Arab News investigation published on June 10 quoted students and university management saying live animals were being used to teach surgical skills, though they added proper procedures were followed.

“Pakistan’s landmark reforms will ban tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education and shift to sophisticated humane methods,” Gala told Arab News.

He said PETA was “delighted” to have shared recommendations for improving veterinary training with Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with him to discuss further critical reforms in biomedical research and training that will spare animals’ lives and benefit patients, alike,” Gala added.

As Sufi introduced the ban on live testing of animals in Islamabad, he announced the government would introduce “Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law,” amending British colonial era regulations.

“Amendments for national level law are ready ... The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly during the next session (for debate and approval),” he said.

Citizens will be able to report any acts of animal cruelty through a hotline. A standard set of guidelines will also be announced to regulate pet markets across the country, Sufi said, adding that violators would be fined and their shops closed.

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