A hospital is being built in North Korea at lightning pace amidst feats the country has been gripped by another coronavirus outbreak.
According to state run news channels workers are fuelled by “indignation” and a “burning hatred” of Kim Jong-un’s enemies as they build the Pyongyang General Hospital.
Work on the facility began suddenly at the height of the pandemic in March, although the country denies it has ever had a case of Covid-19.
Those claims have come under further scrutiny following reports that a wave of coronavirus deaths struck two hospitals in Pyongsong, roughly 18 miles north of the capital.
The facilities have faced dozens of deaths among patients with Covid-19 symptoms, according to South Korea’s Daily NK newspaper.
The affected hospitals specialise in treating tuberculosis and hepatitis respectively, and have moved quickly to blame these diseases for the deaths, a local source said.
Hospital workers had also been warned to stay silent about the true cause, they added.
With patients checking themselves out of the affected facilities now, hospital bosses are said to be fearful that disease could spread more widely.
“Groups of patients left the hospitals out of fear that they could die if they stayed there any longer,” the source told Daily NK.
“Local authorities along with hospital managers were alarmed.”
Government propaganda yesterday gave another reason for the rapid construction of the hospital in Pyongyang.
“All the builders are accelerating the construction with burning hatred and indignation against the enemies,” the Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
Another report claimed workers were in “battle mode”, simultaneously building the inpatient and outpatient wards, as well as completing frame construction.
Images from the construction site show that one of the two towers which forms the bulk of the building is already standing, while the other is halfway there.
Markus Bell, North Korea analyst and research fellow at Australia’s La Trobe University, said the push towards completion was partially down to the pandemic.
But it also showed a desire to regain control of public health, since many citizens had taken healthcare into their own hands after enduring economic meltdown and famine in the 1990s.
“Partially this is a response to the COVID pandemic, something ordinary North Koreans are well aware of,” he said.
“But Kim Jong-un emphasizing public health over other, more glamorous projects is also in line with his stated twin policy drives – a strong military and a strong economy.”
He continued: “The last 15 years have seen a revitalisation of the North Korean healthcare system, powered in part by the country’s informal marketisation.
“These changes often came from people doing things for themselves.
“For example, starting pharmacies dispensing medicines imported from family in Japan or China, selling equipment donated by aid agencies and selling natural remedies
“The health sector has also been privatised by enterprising North Koreans.
“Kim’s emphasis on rolling out Pyongyang’s new hospital is both another way of demonstrating his benevolence towards his people and a means of wresting back control of public health for the state.
“But the question remains, will this be a functioning flagship hospital or just another white elephant lacking the equipment and capacity to provide health services?”
The Pyongsong coronavirus outbreak is not the first that’s reportedly affected the country.
Speaking to foreign media, a source in the North’s military revealed in early March that the disease had claimed 180 soldiers, with most deaths occurring close to the border with China.
Thousands more were under quarantine, they added.
It is difficult to verify such claims in a closed off country like North Korea.
The new hospital is being built close to the Workers’ Party Foundation Monument, near Pyongyang’s Taedong River.