North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has declared the country’s first Covid-19 outbreak a “major disaster” as 21 more have been killed.
State media said 174,440 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Friday alone, as the country works to slow the spread of Covid-19 among the unvaccinated population.
North Korea said on Saturday that a total of 27 people have died and 524,440 have fallen ill amid a rapid spread of fever since late April. There are 280,810 people in quarantine.
State media did not specifically say how many of the fevers and deaths were confirmed as Covid-19 cases.
At a meeting on antivirus strategies on Saturday, Kim described the outbreak as a historic “massive disruption” and called for unity between the government and the population to stabilize the outbreak as soon as possible.
The meeting discussed “promptly distributing emergency drugs” and introducing “scientific treatment tactics and approaches to a variety of patients, including those with special constitutions,” KCNA reported.
Kim said he had “belief that we can overcome this malignant infectious disease in the shortest possible time,” the report added.
The country imposed nationwide lockdowns on Thursday following confirmation of the first Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic.
Kim said they would follow the Chinese model of virus prevention.
“We need to draw lessons from the experiences and fruitful achievements in virus prevention of the Chinese Communist Party and its people,” he said.
State media said tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with a fever in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the Omicron variant. The country has so far officially confirmed that one death is linked to an Omicron infection.
Experts say failure to control the spread of Covid could have devastating consequences in North Korea, given the country’s poor health care system and the fact that the 26 million people are largely unvaccinated.
North Korea has so far shunned offers of Covid vaccines from China and Russia, and through the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, apparently because administering the shots would require external monitoring.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the regime’s public recognition of coronavirus cases meant “the public health situation must be serious”.
With Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse