North Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting Covid-19 outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Friday that six people have died and hundreds of thousands have fallen ill amid an explosive spread of fever across the country, a day after it first acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak. in a largely unvaccinated population. since the pandemic started.

The true scale of the coronavirus outbreak remains unclear as North Korea, which lacks Covid-19 diagnostic kits and other medical equipment, said it has not found why the fever occurred. But some experts say the outbreak could have major consequences because the country’s health care infrastructure remains broken and many of its 26 million people are unvaccinated and malnourished.

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North Korea’s official 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 recovered. He said 18,000 people were recently found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone.

It was not immediately clear how many of the cases were Covid-19, as KCNA said the cause of the fever could not be identified.

KCNA said one of the six people who died was confirmed to be infected with the omicron variant. Currently, he said that 187,800 people in North Korea are being isolated for treatment.

North Korea on Thursday imposed a nationwide lockdown to control its first acknowledged outbreak of Covid-19 after upholding a widely disputed claim for more than two years that it fully defended the virus that has spread to nearly every part of the world.

State media said tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with a fever in the capital Pyongyang confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant. The reports did not specify the number of cases.

KCNA said Kim was briefed on the fever during his visit to the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on Thursday and criticized officials for failing to prevent “a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system.”

He said the spread of the fever has been centered around Pyongyang and nearby areas and stressed the importance of isolating all work, production and residential units from each other while providing residents with all the comforts to curb the spread of the “virus”. malicious”.

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wears a face mask on state television during a meeting in Pyongyang on Thursday to acknowledge the country’s first coronavirus case.KRT via AP

“It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early date, restore the stability of epidemic prevention, and protect the health and well-being of our people,” Kim said. citing KCNA. .

Describing its campaign against the coronavirus as a matter of “national existence,” North Korea has severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade for the past two years and is even believed to have ordered troops to shoot down any intruders. that crosses its borders.

The border closures further hit an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program, thrusting Kim into the most difficult moment of his rule since he took power in 2011.

In January, North Korea tentatively reopened rail freight traffic between its border city of Sinuiju and the Chinese city of Dandong, but China announced a halt to trade last month as it grapples with the spread of Covid-19 in its border areas. .

Hours after North Korea confirmed the outbreak on Thursday, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, South Korea and Japan said, in what was possibly a show of force after Kim publicly acknowledged the virus outbreak.

It was North Korea’s 16th round of missile launches this year as it pushes forward a brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate sanctions relief and other concessions from a position of force

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