SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said on Friday that six people died and hundreds of thousands more became ill amid an explosive spread of fever across the country, a day after it acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak in a largely unvaccinated population for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The true extent of the coronavirus outbreak in North Korea is still unclear, as North Korea – which has no COVID-19 diagnostic kits and other medical equipment – said it has not found why the fever has occurred. But some experts say the outbreak could have major implications as North Korea’s health care infrastructure is still broken and much of the north’s unvaccinated population is malnourished.
The official North Korean Central News Agency said Friday that more than 350,000 people have been treated for a fever that has “spread “explosively” across the country since late April and that 162,200 of them have been recovered. On Thursday alone, 18,000 people were newly found with fever symptoms.
It was not immediately clear how many of the cases were COVID-19, as KCNA said the cause of the fever could not be determined.
KCNA said one of the six people who died was confirmed to be infected with the omicron variant. Currently, 187,800 people in North Korea are being isolated for treatment.
North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown on Thursday to contain the first recognized COVID-19 outbreak after it had maintained a widespread claim for more than two years that it has spread the virus to nearly every place in the world. has completely repelled.
State media said tests of virus samples collected on Sunday from an unspecified number of people with a fever in the capital Pyongyang confirmed they were infected with the ommicron strain. The reports did not mention the number of cases.
Experts say failure to slow coronavirus infections could have serious consequences, as the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are said to be largely unvaccinated.
KCNA said Kim was briefed about the fever during his visit to the state’s headquarters for epidemic prevention on Thursday and criticized officials for failing to prevent “a vulnerability in the epidemic prevention system.”
He said the spread of the fever is centered around the capital Pyongyang and nearby areas and underlined the importance of isolating all work, production and residential units from each other, while providing residents with every comfort to prevent the spread of the “malignant virus”. contain the virus.
“It is the main challenge and the supreme tasks for our party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early stage, restore the stability of epidemic prevention and protect the health and well-being of our people KCNA quoted Kim.
North Korea described its anti-coronavirus campaign as a matter of “national existence” and had severely curtailed cross-border movement and trade for the past two years and is even believed to have ordered troops to fire on sight at violators crossing its borders. exceed.
The border closures have further eroded an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program, leading Kim to perhaps the most difficult moment of his rule since taking power in 2011.
North Korea provisionally reopened rail freight between its border city of Sinuiju and China’s Dandong in January, but China announced a trade halt last month amid the spread of COVID-19 in its border areas.
Hours after North Korea confirmed the outbreak Thursday, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea, South Korea and Japan said, in what may have been a show of force after leader Kim Jong Un publicly acknowledged the virus outbreak.
It was the North’s 16th round of missile launches this year as it forces the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate sanctions and other concessions from a strong position.