North Korea claims no new fever cases amid doubts over COVID-19 data

North Korea claims no new fever cases amid doubts over COVID-19 data
The North’s anti-epidemic center said via state media it had found zero fever patients in the latest 24-hour period, maintaining the country’s total caseload of about 4.8 million. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 July 2022

North Korea claims no new fever cases amid doubts over COVID-19 data

North Korea claims no new fever cases amid doubts over COVID-19 data
  • Despite the claimed zero cases, it is unclear whether and how soon North Korea would formally declare victory over COVID-19
  • Foreign experts struggle to assess the true number of fatalities in North Korea

SEOUL: North Korea on Saturday reported no new fever cases for the first time since it abruptly admitted to its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak and placed its 26 million people under more draconian restrictions in May.
There have been widespread outside doubts about the accuracy of North Korean statistics as its reported fatalities are too low and its daily fever cases have been plummeting too fast recently. Some experts say North Korea has likely manipulated the scale of illness and deaths to help leader Kim Jong Un maintain absolute control amid mounting economic difficulties.
The North’s anti-epidemic center said via state media it had found zero fever patients in the latest 24-hour period, maintaining the country’s total caseload of about 4.8 million. Its death count remains at 74, with a mortality rate of 0.0016 percent that would be the world’s lowest if true.
Despite the claimed zero cases, it is unclear whether and how soon North Korea would formally declare victory over COVID-19 and lift pandemic-related curbs because experts say it could face a viral resurgence later this year like many other countries. North Korea’s state media has recently said it’s intensifying and upgrading its anti-epidemic systems to guard against coronavirus subvariants and other diseases like monkeypox that are occurring in other countries.
“The organizational power and unity unique to the society of (North Korea) is fully displayed in the struggle to bring forward a victory in the emergency anti-epidemic campaign,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.
North Korea’s claimed zero cases could have symbolic significance in its efforts to establish Kim’s image as a leader who has suppressed the outbreak much faster than other countries. Kim would need such credentials to garner greater public support to surmount economic hardships caused by pandemic-related border closings, UN sanctions and his own mismanagement, observers say.
“In North Korea, public health care and politics can’t be separated from each other, and that aspect has been revealed again in its COVID-19 outbreak,” said Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea. “Since they began with manipulated data, they’re now putting an end to the outbreak with manipulated data.”
North Korea had been widely expected to claim zero cases as its daily fever caseload has been nosediving in recent days — there were three reported cases on Friday and 11 on Thursday — from a peak of about 400,000 a day in May. The country, which lacks test kits, has identified only a fraction of its 4.8 million fever patients as confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“Realistically speaking, hundreds of thousands of daily fever cases becoming zero in less than three months is something impossible,” said Lee Yo Han, a professor at Ajou University Graduate School of Public Health in South Korea.
Many outside experts earlier worried the North’s outbreak would have devastating consequences because most of its people are believed to be unvaccinated and about 40 percent are reportedly undernourished. But now, activists and defectors with contacts in North Korea say they haven’t heard about anything like a humanitarian disaster happening in the North. They say the country’s outbreak has also likely peaked.
In an indication of an easing outbreak, North Korea this week held massive no-mask public events in its capital, Pyongyang, where thousands of aged Korean War veterans and others gathered from across the country to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 war. During an anniversary ceremony, Kim hugged and exchanged handshakes with some veterans before he took group photos with other participants. No one wore masks, according to state media photos.
Shin Young-jeon, a professor of preventive medicine at Seoul’s Hanyang University, said North Korea would know that zero cases don’t mean it has no COVID-19 patients because there are likely asymptomatic cases. He said North Korea won’t likely announce it has officially beaten the pandemic anytime soon because of worries about a resurgence.
“North Korea’s state media has already used expressions like it’s winning its anti-virus fight. The only other expression they can use now is declaring the coronavirus has been completely eliminated from its territory,” Shin said. “But if new cases emerge again, North Korea would lose its face.”
The only route for North Korea’s fresh viral spread from abroad is likely China, its main ally which shares a long, porous border with the country, and North Korea would likely find it difficult to announce victory over the pandemic until China does so, Lee said.
The North Korea-China border has been largely shut for more than 2 ½ years, except for a few months when it reopened earlier this year.
Some observers say the North’s elevated pandemic response has provided Kim with a tool to boost his authoritarian rule amid public complaints over long-running restrictions. They say North Korea could report a small number of fever cases again in the coming days.
Foreign experts struggle to assess the true number of fatalities in North Korea. They note the North’s shortage of test kits would also make it virtually impossible for the country to determine whether aged people or others with underlying diseases died of COVID-19 or something else.
Shin, the university professor, stood by his earlier study that predicted North Korea would likely suffer 100,000-150,000 deaths. He said he used South Korean data showing its mortality rate of unvaccinated people for the omicron variant, whose outbreak North Korea admitted in May, was 0.6 percent.
Other experts say the North’s fatalities would be several thousand at the maximum. They said bigger death tolls must have been detected by North Korea monitoring groups.


US announces $1.1 billion in new arms aid for Ukraine

US announces $1.1 billion in new arms aid for Ukraine
Updated 55 min 32 sec ago

US announces $1.1 billion in new arms aid for Ukraine

US announces $1.1 billion in new arms aid for Ukraine
  • The package of orders for US military suppliers includes Himars missile systems and ammunition
  • The new package took the total military aid from the United States to Ukraine since the Russians invaded on February 24 to $16.2 billion

WASHINGTON: The United States announced Wednesday a new package of arms and supplies for Ukraine worth $1.1 billion for reinforcing Kyiv’s forces over the medium and long term.
The package of orders for US military suppliers includes Himars missile systems and ammunition, systems to counter drones, radars and armored vehicles, according to a Defense Department statement.
The package “represents a multi-year investment in critical capabilities to build the enduring strength of Ukraine’s Armed Forces” as they continue to battle the invading Russian army, the Pentagon said.
The new package took the total military aid from the United States to Ukraine since the Russians invaded on February 24 to $16.2 billion.
It includes 18 more Himars systems, highly accurate missile systems which the Ukrainians have been using effectively since June to hit Russian arms depots and command posts far behind the front lines.
It also includes 150 armored vehicles, 150 tactical vehicles for towing weapons, trucks and trailers, and systems to help Ukraine defend against Russia’s Iranian-made drones increasingly deployed on the battlefield.


Japan, Jordan confirm strong cooperation during summit talk

Japan, Jordan confirm strong cooperation during summit talk
Updated 28 September 2022

Japan, Jordan confirm strong cooperation during summit talk

Japan, Jordan confirm strong cooperation during summit talk
  • King Abdullah II expressed his heartfelt condolences for the passing of former Prime Minister Abe
  • The two leaders exchanged views on the regional situation including the Middle East Peace

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio, held a summit meeting on September 28 with King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is currently in Japan after attending the state funeral for former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo.
At the outset of the meeting that lasted 10 minutes according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, Kishida expressed his appreciation for the king’s attendance at the state funeral and expressed his hope to hold discussions to further develop the diplomatic legacy inherited from the late former Prime Minister Abe.
King Abdullah II expressed his heartfelt condolences for the passing of former Prime Minister Abe, and stated that late former Prime Minister Abe was a great friend of not only Jordan but also the region and shared the hope to develop the bilateral relationship based on his legacy.
Prime Minister Kishida extended his congratulations to Crown Prince Hussein’s engagement and expressed his wish for the long-lasting prosperity of the Jordanian Royal Family and further development of friendly relations with Japan’s Imperial Family.
The two leaders exchanged views on the regional situation including the Middle East Peace. Prime Minister Kishida expressed his concern about the impact of the price hike of food and fuel on Jordan, which is hosting a large number of Palestinian refugees, and stated that Japan would continue its support for Jordan, including its support to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).
In response, King Abdullah II expressed his gratitude for Japan’s wide-ranging cooperation for Jordan and UNRWA and stated that he would like to cooperate with Japan in advancing projects involving countries in the region.
The two leaders confirmed that they will continue to work closely together for the long-term stability of the region, according to the ministry.
 


EU executive proposes new ‘biting’ sanctions on Russia for Ukraine escalation

EU executive proposes new ‘biting’ sanctions on Russia for Ukraine escalation
Updated 28 September 2022

EU executive proposes new ‘biting’ sanctions on Russia for Ukraine escalation

EU executive proposes new ‘biting’ sanctions on Russia for Ukraine escalation
  • Ursula von der Leyen: ‘We do not accept the sham referenda nor any kind of annexation in Ukraine ... we are determined to make the Kremlin pay the price for this further escalation’
  • Von der Leyen: ‘We are proposing a new package of biting sanctions against Russia’

BRUSSELS: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday proposed fresh sanctions against Russia over its war against Ukraine, including further trade restrictions, individual blacklistings and an oil price cap for third countries.
The proposal will now go to the bloc’s 27 member countries, which will need to overcome differences on the new sanctions and reach unanimity to implement them.
That may take time despite the EU being spurred into action by Russia’s partial military mobilization, nuclear threats to the West and moving to annex a swath of Ukraine.
“We do not accept the sham referenda nor any kind of annexation in Ukraine. And we are determined to make the Kremlin pay the price for this further escalation,” von der Leyen told reporters.
“We are proposing a new package of biting sanctions against Russia.”
Earlier on Wednesday, a senior economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the EU to further cut money flows to Russia from fossil fuel sales.
The G7 group of industrialized countries — where EU countries Italy, France and Germany are also members — already agreed to put such an oil price cap in place via insurers.
“If you are doing nothing it means you are just prolonging this war with Ukraine, this is just ridiculous, the whole civilized world has to be united on that,” Oleg Ustenko told reporters.
While the EU already agreed to stop importing Russian oil starting later this year, Ustenko said the “blood money” would keep on flowing to Moscow unless European companies are banned from insuring seaborne shipments.


Austria to launch checks at Slovak border to stop migrants

Austria to launch checks at Slovak border to stop migrants
Updated 28 September 2022

Austria to launch checks at Slovak border to stop migrants

Austria to launch checks at Slovak border to stop migrants
  • The measure becomes effective at midnight Wednesday
  • “We have to react before the smugglers react,” said Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner
BERLIN: Austria announced Wednesday that it will start checks at its border crossings with Slovakia, following a similar decision by the Czech Republic, in a move that’s aimed at keeping migrants from entering.
The measure becomes effective at midnight Wednesday, the Austrian government said.
The Austrian interior ministry said the border controls are a response to the Czech Republic’s announcement, a day earlier, of controls on its border with Slovakia starting Thursday, and aim to ensure that human traffickers do not use Austria as an alternative.
“We have to react before the smugglers react,” Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner told public broadcaster ORF.
Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all belong to the European Union’s visa-free Schengen zone where people can normally cross borders without getting checked. However, temporary border controls have repeatedly been reinstated in the past, whether to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic or to stop migrants from entering illegally.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters later on Wednesday that he would meet Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic next week to discuss the issue of migration.
“The states are not doing this for their own sake, but to fight organized crime and smuggling and to reduce the pressure from the borders,” Nehammer said in Vienna.
Austria introduced controls along its borders with Hungary and Slovenia in 2015, when more than 1 million migrants from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan entered the European Union. The Alpine country has repeatedly extended those controls, which remain in place.
Back then, only about 8,500 migrants were detained in the Czech Republic, while this year so far 12,000 migrants have been detained, the Czech interior ministry said, adding that most of them were Syrians. A total of 125 human smugglers have been arrested in the Czech Republic this year, a significant increase compared with the previous years.
Most migrants don’t want to stay in the Czech Republic or Slovakia, but travel through them to reach wealthier places like Germany, Sweden or Austria.
The Austrian border controls will initially be enforced at 11 crossing to Slovakia for 10 days.

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream
Updated 28 September 2022

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream
  • Europe has been investigating what Germany, Denmark and Sweden said were attacks which had caused major leaks into the Baltic Sea

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Wednesday said claims that Russia was somehow behind a possible attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines were stupid, adding that Moscow saw a sharp increase the profits of US companies supplying gas to Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a daily conference call with reporters that the incident needed to be investigated and the timings for repair of the damaged pipelines were not clear.
Europe has been investigating what Germany, Denmark and Sweden said were attacks which had caused major leaks into the Baltic Sea from two Russian gas pipelines at the center of an energy standoff.
Asked about claims Russia might somehow be behind the possible attack, Peskov said: “That’s quite predictable and also predictably stupid.”
“This is a big problem for us because, firstly, both lines of Nord Stream 2 are filled with gas — the entire system is ready to pump gas and the gas is very expensive... Now the gas is flying off into the air.”
“Before making any claims, we should wait for investigation into these ruptures, whether there was an explosion or not,” Peskov said. Information on the incident could be expected from Denmark and Sweden, he said.
Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, said on Tuesday that three of four offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system sustained “unprecedented” damage in one day. All Nord Stream’s pipeline had not delivered gas by the time of the incident.
Nord Stream 1 has reported a significant pressure drop caused by the gas leak on both lines of the gas pipeline, while Nord Stream 2 said that a sharp pressure drop in line A was registered on Monday.