Your Monday briefing: North Korea’s growing epidemic

Hello. North Korea’s epidemic grows, India bans most wheat exports, and South Korea changes its surgery laws.

State media reported 21 new deaths and a huge increase 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, such as fever, that could be caused by Covid-19 – a tenfold jump from the 18,000 cases reported on Friday. North Korea has reported a total of 524,400 people with Covid-like symptoms since the end of last month.

“North Korea is only reporting ‘people with fever’ because they don’t have enough test kits,” an expert said. Covid may not be the cause of all these fevers, he said, but the number of asymptomatic cases is likely much higher than the official tally.

Vaccines: North Koreans are not vaccinated, although some elites may have received vaccines. International health organizations and the South Korean government have said they are ready to ship vaccines, therapeutics and other aid.

Adding to concerns about global food insecurity, the world’s second-largest wheat producer has banned most grain exports. India’s Commerce Ministry said a sudden spike in prices had threatened the country’s food security.

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

Background: The war interrupted wheat production in Ukraine and Russia, and blockades in the Black Sea disrupted grain transportation. And climate change poses a serious threat. Agricultural experts have said the ongoing heat wave in India could affect the harvest this year. Torrential rains led to crop failures in China, while drought in other countries further reduced supplies.

South Korea has become one of the first countries to require cameras in operating rooms that treat patients under general anesthesia, a move intended to restore confidence in the medical system.

For years, hospitals have received complaints about doctors handing over patients 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 are delegating nurses to perform operations, thereby packing in more procedures and maximizing profits. They argue that the cameras will protect patients and offer victims of medical malpractice evidence to use in court.

But ethicists and medical officials around the world have warned that surveillance of surgeons can hurt morale, violate patient privacy and make doctors less likely to take risks to save lives.

Background: Clandestine surgeries started happening at plastic surgery clinics in the 2010s after South Korea began promoting medical tourism, legal experts say. They have spread to spine hospitals, experts said, which mostly perform relatively simple procedures in high demand by 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 coming up against growing international demand for so-called “k-tattoos”, and the country’s tattoo artists say it’s time to end the stigma of their business.

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

Sixteen years ago, Dennis DeGray’s mind was nearly severed from his body. He ran to take out the trash in torrential rain, slipped, landed hard on his chin and broke his neck, paralyzing him from the collar bones down.

For several years he “just lay there watching the History Channel,” he said. But then he met Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgeon at Stanford, who had developed 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 if he can’t move his hands. Just by imagining a gesture, he can move a computer cursor, operate robotic limbs, shop on Amazon and fly a drone – but only in a simulator, for now.

The therapeutic applications are obvious. Interest from a growing 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. – Amelie

PS Elisabeth Goodridge, The Times’ associate travel editor, will study travel reporting in the age of climate change as a 2023 Nieman Scholar at Harvard.

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

You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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