A day after finally confirming that tit has a COVID-19 outbreak on its hands, North Korea is reporting that an unidentified fever has affected at least 350,000 of its citizens in recent weeks.
Outside observers believe that COVID-19 cases have been present in the country for some time, but state authorities only publicly announced the first cases on Thursday, May 12, putting the entire country in a strict lockdown.
The next day, KCNA state media reported that six people died after suffering from “fever” and one tested positive for the Omicron variant SARS-CoV-2. It was also reported that “a fever whose cause could not be identified” has spread “explosively” since the end of April and has affected a total of 350,000 people.
This unidentified fever is likely to be COVID-19, experts say, though the news report did not say how many have tested positive for the infection. The KCNA news agency’s unusual choice of words is likely a reflection of the lack of evidence in the country.
It is also widely believed that very few people in North Korea have received any vaccine against COVID-19 and it is one of the worst prepared countries to deal with a health care crisis worldwide.
“There is no evidence to show that North Korea has access to enough vaccines to protect its population from covid-19. However, it has rejected millions of doses of AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines offered by the WHO-led COVAX programme, a global COVID-19 vaccine distribution mechanism that requires transparent distribution and tracking,” said Boram Jang, Amnesty International researcher for East Asia, 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.”
Despite this desperate situation, it appears that the “hermit kingdom” is now treating its COVID-19 outbreak with transparency after hiding the situation. State authorities have announced that they have locked down all their provinces, cities, and counties and isolated every “work unit, production unit, and residential unit” to prevent the spread of infection.
Other state news published on May 12 spoke of the “serious situation” facing the country and added that they have decided to accelerate to a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system.”
“The Party, the administrative and economic organs, the state and public security organs and the armed forces and all other organs and sectors shall unconditionally accept the instructions of the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters as demanded by the Party Central Committee and they will fully implement them,” reads the KCNA article.
Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, visited the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters and criticized how the country, especially the capital Pyongyang, has succumbed to an explosive spread of the virus.
North Korea’s state television, which can watch a live stream from here, has broadcast footage of Kim entering the pandemic response headquarters in Pyongyang wearing a face mask. He was later seen at headquarters smoking a cigarette, without his mask on, and chatting with senior officials.