North Korea reports 6 COVID-19 deaths, isolates 1,87,800 people
A day after North Korea acknowledged its first-ever COVID-19 outbreak, the nation said six people have died and thousands have shown symptoms of fever. Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said 18,000 people were found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone, and 1,87,800 people were being isolated. A total of 3.5 lakh people developed fever since late April, while 1,62,200 have recovered, it said.
- Until now, North Korea had boasted of keeping COVID-19 at bay since its emergence.
- From January 3, 2020, to May 11 this year, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and zero reported deaths from North Korea, the WHO said.
- North Korea is also believed to have rejected offers of vaccinations from the WHO, China, and Russia.
- The country's 25 million-strong population remains unvaccinated.
Of the six deaths reported, one was linked to the Omicron variant, a KCNA report said. On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered a nationwide lockdown calling it the "gravest national emergency." "There has been the biggest emergency incident...with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months (sic)," KCNA stated.
Jong-un visited the anti-virus command center on Thursday to assess the situation as people with fever were being isolated and treated. Health authorities are also bolstering disinfection work. KCNA reported that Jong-un criticized the simultaneous spread of fever with Pyongyang as a center. "It shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established," KCNA said.
North Korea said the COVID-19 outbreak began in Pyongyang last month when the city reportedly held several massive public events on April 15 and 25, where most people did not wear masks. Areas of Pyongyang had been locked down for two days, Seoul-based NK News reported. Experts believe that North Korea admitting the virus outbreak means the public health situation is serious.
An analyst at South Korea's Sejong Institute, Cheong Seong-Chang, said the pace at which the fever is spreading in the North suggests the crisis could last months and possibly into 2023. A major COVID-19 outbreak would be devastating because of the country's ill-equipped healthcare system. Some experts also feel that the North announcing the outbreak could mean it is willing to receive outside aid.
Even though foreign experts dispute North Korea's claim of a "zero COVID-19 case," South Korean officials say the North took severe measures early in 2020 before the virus spread across the world. The country quarantined people with symptoms resembling COVID-19. For two years, all cross-border traffic and trade were halted. The troops were ordered to shoot on sight any trespassers who crossed its borders.