North Korean media have said at least six people have died and that hundreds of thousands of people are experiencing fever symptoms after the country confirmed its first Covid case
At least six people have now died and hundreds of thousands are showing symptoms of fever after North Korea declared a “serious state of emergency” after confirming its first Covid case.
North Korea’s state media said there has been an “explosive spread” of the fever as fears mount about the extent of the outbreak.
Around 187,800 people are currently being treated in isolation after a fever of unknown origin has spread “explosively across the country” since late April, official KCNA news agency reported.
About 350,000 people have shown signs of the fever, including 18,000 who newly reported such symptoms on Tuesday alone, KCNA said.
At least six people who showed symptoms of fever died, with one of those cases confirmed to have contracted the omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the anti-virus command center to review the situation and responses after declaring the “most serious state of emergency” and ordering a national lockdown.
North Korea said the outbreak began in the capital Pyongyang in April.
State media did not elaborate on the cause of the outbreak, but the city held several large public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.
Kim “criticized that the simultaneous spread of the fever with the capital area as the center shows that there is a flaw in the disease prevention system we have already established,” KCNA said.
Kim highlighted the active isolation and treatment of people with fever as the top priority, calling for the development of scientific treatment methods and tactics “at lightning speed” and the strengthening of drug supply efforts.
In another release, KCNA said health authorities are trying to organize testing and treatment systems and step up disinfection work.
The rapid spread of the virus shows the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources but has refused international help with vaccinations and kept its borders closed.
Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to deepen the isolated country’s already difficult food situation this year, as the lockdown would hamper the “all-out fight” against the drought and labor mobilization.
North Korea had turned down vaccine shipments from the global COVAX sharing program and China, potentially putting the vast majority of people at higher risk of infection in a relatively young society.
Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s new nominee for unification minister in charge of inter-Korean relations, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he was ready to push for humanitarian aid to the north, including COVID treatment, injections and other medical supplies supply supplies.
A US State Department spokesman said it has no plans to send vaccines to North Korea but supports international efforts to provide assistance to vulnerable people there and urged Pyongyang to facilitate that work.