SEOUL, KOREA — Republic of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said it was “crucial” to improve his country’s health care system during a groundbreaking ceremony for a general hospital, state media reported on March 17, amid worries about the coronavirus in the impoverished North.
North Korea has been engaged in an intense campaign to guard against COVID-19, though it hasn’t officially reported any cases of infection. Experts say North Korea is extremely vulnerable to an infectious disease due to its chronic lack of medical supplies and outdated medical infrastructure.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim ordered the construction of the new “modern general hospital” in Pyongyang to be completed before October’s 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Kim said the state’s efforts should be directed “to prop up the field of public health,” KCNA said.
Kim also said his country’s 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.” Some observers said North Korea may have hurried the construction since China reported the first cases of the new disease in late December and North Korea soon closed its borders in a disease-control measure.
Kim’s attendance at the hospital ceremony also confirmed he returned to Pyongyang after supervising artillery firing exercises on North Korea’s east coast. His visits to the rural coastal areas had prompted outside speculation he might have been trying to avoid the virus.