North Korea announces first Covid deaths amid ‘explosive’ outbreak

On Thursday, North Korea reported 18,000 new “fever cases” and the six deaths, one of which tested positive for Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant, state media KCNA reported on Friday.

“A fever whose cause could not be identified has spread explosively nationwide since the end of April,” the newspaper said. “As of now, up to 187,800 people are being isolated.”

An outbreak of Covid-19 could prove disastrous for impoverished North Korea. The country’s crumbling healthcare infrastructure is unlikely to be up to the task of treating large numbers of patients with a highly infectious disease and the nation is not known to have imported coronavirus vaccines.

North Korea had not previously acknowledged any cases of coronavirus, though few believe a country of around 25 million people has been spared a virus that has infected millions around the world.

North Korea declares 'major national emergency' identified as first Covid-19 case, state media report

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on Thursday, acknowledging that the spread of the outbreak meant there was a “vulnerable point” in the country’s epidemic prevention system, according to KCNA.

“It is the most important challenge and the supreme tasks facing our party in reversing the immediate public health crisis situation,” Kim said, according to KCNA.

After a meeting of the country’s powerful politburo on Thursday, North Korea locked down all cities and ordered “people with fever or abnormal symptoms” to be quarantined, KCNA said.

On Thursday, China said it is ready to provide support to North Korea in its fight against Covid-19.

North Korea’s borders have been sealed since January 2020 to keep the virus at bay, despite repercussions on trade with Beijing, an economic lifeline the impoverished country needs to keep its people from going hungry.

“As comrades, neighbors and friends, China stands ready to give full support to the DPRK in its fight against the epidemic,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing.

As China battles its own outbreak, China’s National Immigration Administration urged Jilin province, which borders North Korea, to strengthen health inspections at its customs after North Korea reported its first Covid case. -19.

Zero vaccines could spell disaster

North Korea is not believed to have received any COVID-19 vaccines, despite being eligible for the global COVID-19 vaccine exchange program, Covax.

In February, Covax reportedly reduced the number of doses allocated to North Korea because the country failed to arrange any shipments, according to Reuters.

Assuming the majority of North Korea’s population is not vaccinated, an outbreak in North Korea, which has limited testing capabilities, inadequate medical infrastructure and has been isolated from the outside world, could quickly turn deadly.

Calls are mounting for the country’s leaders to provide access to vaccines.

“There is no evidence to show that North Korea has access to enough vaccines to protect its population from COVID-19. However, he has refused millions of doses of AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines offered by the WHO-led COVAX programme,” Amnesty International said. East Asian researcher Boram Jang, in a statement.

“With the first official news of a Covid-19 outbreak in the country, continuing down this path could cost many lives and would be inconceivable negligence in defending the right to health.”

CNN’s Philip Wang contributed.

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