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N.Korea reports first COVID-19 death as fever ‘explosively spreads’

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© Reuters. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters, as North Korea reports its first outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 12, 2022, in this photo released by North Korea’s

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By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) -At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media said on Friday, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of country’s first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic.

The data represents an unprecedented admission of an “explosive” outbreak in a country that had previously reported no confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and could mark a grave public health, economic, and political crisis for the isolated regime.

Experts said that given North Korea’s limited testing capabilities, the numbers released so far probably represent a small fraction of the infections, and could lead to thousands of deaths in one of only two countries in the world without a COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

About 187,800 people are being treated in isolation after a fever of unidentified origin has “explosively spread nationwide” since late April, the official KCNA news agency reported.

Roughly 350,000 people have shown signs of that fever, including 18,000 who newly reported such symptoms on Thursday, KCNA said. About 162,200 have been treated, but it did not specify how many had tested positive for COVID-19.

At least six people who showed fever symptoms have died, with one of those case confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.

Harvard Medical School’s Kee Park, who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the country has been testing about 1,400 people each week, which is not nearly enough to survey 350,000 people with symptoms.

“What is more worrisome is the sheer number of symptomatic people,” he added. “Using a conservative case fatality rate of 1% and assuming the surge is due to an Omicron variant of COVID-19, North Korea can expect 3,500 deaths from this outbreak.”

‘GRAVEST EMERGENCY’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the anti-virus command centre on Thursday to check the situation and responses after declaring a “gravest state of emergency” and ordering a national lockdown, state media reported.

North Korea has said the outbreak began in the capital of Pyongyang in April. State media did not elaborate on the cause of the outbreak, but the city hosted several massive public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.

Kim, who attended several of those events, “criticised that the simultaneous spread of fever with the capital area as a centre shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established,” KCNA said.

Kim said actively isolating and treating people with fevers is a top priority, while calling for scientific treatment methods and tactics “at a lightning tempo” and bolstering measures to supply medication.

In another dispatch, KCNA said health authorities were trying to organise testing and treatment systems and bolster disinfection work.

The rapid spread of the virus highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources, has refused international help with vaccinations and has kept its borders shut.

Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to deepen the isolated country’s already tough food situation this year, as the lockdown would hamper its “all-out fight” against drought and the mobilisation of labour.

CALLS FOR AID

North Korea said last year it had developed its own Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) equipment to conduct COVID tests. But it declined vaccine supplies from the COVAX global sharing programme and China, possibly leaving the vast majority of people in a relatively young society at higher risk of infection.

North Korea has so far not publicized any new calls for help in countering the outbreak, but some observers were optimistic that the disclosure was a signal that the government would soon accept vaccines or other aid.

Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s new nominee to be the unification minister, responsible for inter-Korean ties, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he was willing to push for humanitarian assistance for the North, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical supplies.

A unification ministry spokesman said on Friday that about 95.4 billion won ($74.1 million) from an inter-Korean cooperation fund was earmarked to facilitate exchanges in the health and medical area.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said it had no plans to send vaccines to North Korea but supported international efforts to provide aid to vulnerable people there, urging Pyongyang to facilitate that work. [nW1N2W304V]

($1 = 1,287.0400 won)

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Trump’s sway faces biggest midterm test in Georgia’s Republican races

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© Reuters. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp waves to the crowd following a rally ahead of the state’s Republican primary, in Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

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By Alexandra Ulmer

ATLANTA (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s campaign to play kingmaker in this year’s midterm elections faced its biggest test yet in Georgia on Tuesday as Republican voters decide whether to heed his demands to oust Governor Brian Kemp.

Trump has backed former U.S. Senator David Perdue’s primary challenge against Kemp, who angered the former president by refusing to try to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

While opinion polls show Kemp holding a wide lead over Perdue, another Trump-endorsed candidate, former football star Herschel Walker, is favored to snag the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate — though some party leaders are worried he could prove to be a flawed general election candidate.

Trump’s obsession over his loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden has extended to other Republican statewide races, including for secretary of state, the state’s top election official.

Incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who rejected Trump’s plea to “find” enough votes to alter the outcome, faces U.S. Representative Jody Hice, who earned Trump’s endorsement and has echoed his fraud claims, in a race that polls suggest is tight.

Trump has made more than 190 endorsements since leaving office, mostly for incumbent Republicans who face no serious primary opposition.

He has amassed a mixed record in competitive contests; most recently, his nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, the television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, is in a race still too close to call a week after voting.

Republicans are favored to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 8, though analysts say Democrats have a better chance of holding onto control of the Senate.

The loss of either chamber would bring Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda to a halt and give Republicans the power to launch distracting and potentially politically damaging investigations.

KEMP POISED FOR VICTORY

Opinion polls show Georgia incumbent Kemp well above the 50% threshold required to win the nomination outright and avoid a run-off against Perdue, who has repeated Trump’s falsehoods about losing Georgia due to widespread voter fraud.

In a radio interview on Monday, Perdue criticized Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is expected to face off against Kemp in a rematch of the 2018 election, after she decried Georgia’s high incarceration and maternal mortality rates.

“She ain’t from here. Let her go back where she came from if she doesn’t like it here,” he said. Abrams, who is Black, was born in Wisconsin and moved to Georgia with her family as a child.

Kemp’s surging campaign has drawn support from some high-profile Republicans who have themselves been targets for Trump’s ire, including Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence.

“Elections are about the future. There are those who want to make this election about the past,” Pence said at an election-eve rally for Kemp in Kennesaw on Monday night.

Echoing other Kemp supporters, retired tech sales executive Brian Seifried, 52, said in an interview in Atlanta that he liked Kemp’s pro-business policies, his hard line on immigration and his move to enact a sweeping set of voting restrictions after the 2020 election.

“President Trump’s endorsement did not have any sway over what I think is best for Georgia,” Seifried said.

Four other states – Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and Minnesota – were also holding primary elections on Tuesday.

In Alabama, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, who lost Trump’s endorsement after saying it was time to move on from the 2020 election, is among those battling for a Senate seat. Trump-era White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders is favored to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Arkansas.

In Texas, a Democrat-on-Democrat congressional runoff election pits Henry Cuellar, the only House Democrat who opposes abortion rights, against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Herschel Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia and in the National Football League, has held a comfortable lead in opinion polls and would face incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in November.

FACTBOX-Seven races to watch in Georgia, Alabama midterm primaries, Texas run-offsFACTBOX-Power of Trump’s endorsements faces test in 12 U.S. midterm primariesTexas AG Paxton squares off against Bush in Republican run-off

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World

Tedros re-elected as head of World Health Organization

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the 75th World Health Assembly at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization’s (WHO) members re-elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Director General by a strong majority for another five years, the president of the World Health Assembly said on Tuesday.

The vote by secret ballot, announced by Ahmed Robleh Abdilleh from Djibouti at a major annual meeting, was seen as a formality since Tedros was the only candidate running.

Ministers and delegates took turns to shake hands and hug Tedros, a former health minister from Ethiopia, who has steered the UN agency through a turbulent period dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The president had to use a gavel several times to interrupt the applause.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach tweeted on Tuesday: “Just re-elected as ⁦Director General of #WHO: @DrTedros⁩. 155/160 votes, spectacular result. Congratulations, fully deserved. Germany recently overtook the United States as the UN health agency’s top donor.

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U.S. Senate candidate sues over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania midterms primary

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick speaks to reporters after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Quinn Glabicki/File Photo

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(Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick (NYSE:MKC) has filed a lawsuit in a Pennsylvania court to compel counties to count undated mail-in ballots in his primary race against TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom he trails by less than 1,000 votes.

The race between McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, and Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, for the Republican party nomination is close enough to trigger an automatic recount under Pennsylvania state law.

While McCormick is slightly behind Oz after the May 17 vote, he is well ahead of his opponent in absentee ballots, according to polling firm Edison Research. McCormick has received 45,794 mail-in votes, compared with Oz, who has 32,944.

In a statement, McCormick’s campaign said it sued on Monday in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court “to compel the counties to follow the Republican-leaning (Third Circuit Court) order from last week stating that undated ballots returned on time be counted.”

The statement added that the ballots “are postmarked upon arrival to county boards of elections and, therefore, already dated and proven to be timely.”

It was not clear how many mail-in ballots lack a handwritten date, and whether counting them could help McCormick or make a recount less likely. State election officials expect to know this week whether a recount will be needed.

Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections, said it agreed that undated ballots must be counted in the May 17 race, but advised they be “segregated” and “appropriately logged pending litigation.”

“A determination on whether the segregated tabulations will be used in certifying elections has not yet been made, given the ongoing litigation,” it said.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that they “absolutely object to the counting of mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania law and our courts have been very clear that undated ballots are not to be counted.”

In a statement on Twitter, Oz called McCormick’s lawsuit “a tactic that could have long-term harmful consequences for elections in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

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