Home Covid 19 Your Monday Briefing: North Korea’s Growing Outbreak

Your Monday Briefing: North Korea’s Growing Outbreak


Good morning. North Korea’s outbreak grows, India bans most wheat exports and South Korea amends its surgery laws.

State media reported 21 new deaths and a huge jump in suspected coronavirus cases on Saturday, as North Korea struggled to contain its first reported outbreak.

State media said an additional 174,400 people had symptoms, like a fever, that could be caused by Covid-19 — a tenfold jump from the 18,000 such cases reported on Friday. North Korea has reported a total of 524,400 people with Covid-like symptoms since late last month.

“North Korea is reporting only ‘people with fever’ because it does not have enough test kits,” an expert said. Covid may not be causing all those fevers, he said, but the number of asymptomatic cases is likely much higher than the official count.

Vaccines: North Koreans are unvaccinated, though some elites may have received shots. International health organizations and the South Korean government have said that they were ready to ship vaccines, therapeutics and other aid.

Adding to concerns of global food insecurity, the world’s second-largest wheat producer has banned most exports of the grain. India’s commerce ministry said that a sudden price spike had threatened the country’s food security.

The move, an apparent about-face, could compound a worldwide shortfall and exacerbate a dire forecast for global hunger. In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Biden that India was ready to supply the world with its reserves.

Background: The war has interrupted wheat production in Ukraine and Russia, and blockades in the Black Sea have disrupted transport of the grain. And climate change poses a dire threat. Agricultural experts said that India’s ongoing heat wave could affect the harvest this year. Torrential rains brought on poor harvests in China, while drought in other countries further snarled supplies.

South Korea has become one of the first countries to require cameras in operating rooms that handle patients under general anesthesia, a measure meant to restore faith in the medical system.

For years, hospitals have fielded complaints about doctors turning patients over to unsupervised assistants who perform “ghost surgeries.” About five patients have died from such surgeries in the past eight years, a patient advocate said.

According to patient advocates, surgeons deputize nurses to perform operations, thereby packing in more procedures and maximizing profits. They argue that cameras will protect patients and offer medical malpractice victims evidence to use in court.

But ethicists and medical officials across the world have cautioned that surveilling surgeons may hurt morale, violate patient privacy and make physicians less likely to take risks to save lives.

Background: The surreptitious surgeries began occurring at plastic surgery clinics in the 2010s, after South Korea started promoting medical tourism, according to legal experts. They spread to spinal hospitals, experts said, which mostly perform relatively uncomplicated procedures in high demand among the country’s aging population.

Tattooing without a medical license is illegal in South Korea, where decorative body art has long been associated with organized crime. But the law is crashing into rising international demand for what are known as “k-tattoos,” and the country’s tattoo artists argue that it’s time to end the stigma against their business.

Lives lived: Katsumoto Saotome compiled six books of survivors’ recollections of the 1945 Tokyo firebombing and founded (without government support) a memorial museum. Saotome died at 90.

Sixteen years ago, Dennis DeGray’s mind was nearly severed from his body. He ran to take out the trash in a rainstorm, slipped, landed hard on his chin, and snapped his neck, paralyzing him from the collarbones down.

For several years, he “simply laid there, watching the History Channel,” he said. But then he met Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgeon at Stanford, who had been developing a brain-computer interface. Henderson asked DeGray if he wanted to fly a drone. DeGray decided to participate.

Now, implants in his brain allow DeGray some control, even though he cannot move his hands. Just by imagining a gesture, he can move a computer cursor, operate robotic limbs, buy from Amazon and fly a drone — albeit only in a simulator, for now.

There are obvious therapeutic applications. Interest from an increasing number of high-profile start-ups also suggests the possibility of a future in which neural interfaces enhance people’s innate abilities and grant them new ones — in addition to restoring those that have been lost.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Elisabeth Goodridge, The Times’s deputy travel editor, will study travel reporting in an era of climate change as a 2023 Nieman fellow at Harvard.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on America’s Covid death toll.

You can reach Amelia and the team at briefing@nytimes.com.