North Korea COVID outbreak spins out of control; over a million cases and counting

North Koreans are likely to be especially vulnerable to the virus due to a lack of vaccinations and a poor healthcare system

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Monday, May 16, 2022, 03:37 PM IST
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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits a pharmacy in Pyongyang, North Korea on Sunday, May 15, 2022 | AP

North Korea on Sunday reported 15 additional deaths from "fever" after the country recently announced its first-ever cases of Covid-19 and ordered nationwide lockdowns.

State media KCNA said a total of 42 people had died, with 820,620 cases and at least 324,550 under medical treatment.

More than a million people have now been sickened by what Pyongyang is calling a "fever", state media said.

Some 50 people have died, but it's unclear how many of those suspected cases tested positive for Covid.

North Korea has only limited testing capacity, so few cases are confirmed.

North Koreans are likely to be especially vulnerable to the virus due to lack of vaccinations and a poor healthcare system. A nationwide lockdown is in place in the reclusive country.

Leader Kim Jong Un has said the outbreak has caused "great upheaval" in North Korea.

KCNA reported that "all provinces, cities and counties of the country have been totally locked down and working units, production units and residential units closed from each other."

Despite activating its "maximum emergency quarantine system" to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population, North Korea is now reporting large numbers of new cases daily.

North Korea confirmed Thursday that the highly contagious Omicron variant had been detected in the capital Pyongyang, with Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns.

It was the government's first official admission of Covid cases and marked the failure of a two-year coronavirus blockade maintained since the start of the pandemic.

"The spread of malignant disease comes to be a great upheaval in our country since the founding of the DPRK," Kim said Saturday, referring to North Korea by its official name.

North Korea is believed to be mostly relying on isolating people with symptoms at shelters. Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea’s Sejong Institute said the North’s limited number of test kits are likely mainly reserved for the ruling elite.

Failing to slow the virus could have dire consequences for North Korea, considering its broken health care system and that its people are believed to be unvaccinated. There’s also malnourishment and chronic poverty.

The North imposed what it described as maximum preventive measures that restricted travel between cities and counties, and Kim ordered public health officials, teachers and others to identify people with fevers so they could be quarantined. As of Sunday, more than 564,860 people were in quarantine, North Korea’s state media reported.

North Korea’s previous claim of a perfect record in keeping out the virus for 2 1/2 years was widely doubted. But its extremely strict border closure, large-scale quarantines and propaganda that stressed anti-virus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have staved off a huge outbreak until now.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told the National Assembly on Monday that the South was willing to send vaccines, medicine, equipment and health personnel to the North if it’s willing to accept.

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