Leader Kim Jong-un attended a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of contruction on a “modern general hospital” in the capital Pyongyang. He said it was “crucial” for the state’s efforts to be directed “to prop up the field of public health”. North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Kim as saying the work on the new medical facility must be completed before October’s 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Kim said the ruling party decided on building the hospital during a key party meeting in late December and was working to have it finished “in the shortest time.”
In an unusually admission, Kim also said: “Frankly speaking, our party criticized in a heart-aching manner the fact that there is not a modern medical and health care facility even in our capital city.”
Experts said the dictator appears to be using the hospital construction to give the impression of a leader caring about public livelihoods at a time when his country is grappling with international sanctions amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the US.fected.
Ahn Kyung-su, head of the Seoul-based private Research Center of DPRK Health and Welfare, said North Korea has several modern general hospitals in Pyongyang but an analysis of construction drawings for the new hospital shown in KCNA photos suggested it would be the most sophisticated hospital in the country when it is finished.
The groundbreaking ceremony passed off without any acknowledgement of the international health crisis sparked by the coronavirus outbreak in neighbouring China last December.
Outside experts say a coronavirus epidemic in North Korea could be devastating due its chronic lack of medical supplies and outdated health care infrastructure.
Officials said they had engaged in an intense campaign to guard against the disease and steadfastly maintain no one has been infected by the potentially deadly flu-like virus.
This stands in stark contrast to the situation in neighbouring South Korea, which has 8,320 cases of COVID-19 and 81 deaths and China, where the number of cases is 81,116 and the death toll has reached 3,221.
Given the amount of cross-border trade between North Korea and China, outside experts belive such an outcome would appear extremely improbable.
Figures from the Johns Hopkins University in the US show there are 215,955 coronavirus cases globally and 8,749 deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said 80 percent of all cases had beeb reported across Europe and the Western Pacific region, which includes much of Asia.
In Britain, 104 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus and tens of thousands of people are thought to be infected.