Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered a nationwide lockdown to try to stem the spread of the virus in the country, whose population is unvaccinated, and deployed the military to help fight the outbreak, whose he criticized the management.

Hundreds of Korean People’s Army service members in camouflage uniforms were seen gathering in the capital Pyongyang in photos released by KCNA.

The army “has urgently deployed its powerful forces to all pharmacies in Pyongyang city and started providing medicine as part of a round-the-clock service,” KCNA said.

An agency photo shows soldiers walking past a long line of olive-green trucks.

Kim Jong Un on Monday sharply criticized the government and health authorities for their handling of the outbreak, particularly the failure to keep pharmacies open at all times.

Since the country announced its first case of Covid last Thursday, the leader has taken personal responsibility for the fight against the epidemic, which he says is causing “great upheaval” in the country.

The authorities have reported more than 1.48 million cases of “fever” and 56 deaths since the appearance of Covid in the country and “at least 663,910 people are undergoing medical treatment”, according to the same source.

– Chronic malnutrition –

Authorities have stepped up media awareness campaigns and pharmaceutical companies have increased drug production, KCNA said.

North Korea’s healthcare system was ranked 193rd out of 195 countries in a study by Johns Hopkins University of the United States last year.

The country’s hospitals are notoriously under-equipped, with few intensive care units.

According to experts, the country has no treatment for Covid-19 and does not have the capacity to massively test its population.

“Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unvaccinated, there is hardly any medicine left in the country, and the health infrastructure is unable to cope with this pandemic,” said Lina Yoon. , a Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch.

She called on the international community to offer medicines, vaccines and infrastructure to North Korea.

So far, Pyongyang has not responded to Seoul’s offer, according to South Korea’s unification ministry.

South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has taken a tougher stance than his predecessor on his nuclear-armed neighbour.

On Monday, he told the National Assembly that he “would not hesitate to provide the necessary assistance to the North Korean people” on condition that they accept it.

Despite the health crisis, new satellite images indicate that North Korea has resumed the construction of a nuclear reactor long interrupted.

Washington and Seoul suspect Pyongyang of preparing a nuclear test, which would be the seventh in its history and the first since 2017, in order to divert the attention of the North Korean population from the health crisis.