NORTH KOREA (May 13, 2022)—North Korea has confirmed its first death from Covid-19, with state media adding that tens of thousands more are experiencing fever symptoms.
Six people died after suffering a fever with one testing positive for Omicron, state media reported on Friday.
It said 187,000 people with a fever were being “isolated and treated”.
While experts believe the virus has been present in the country for some time, the authorities only announced the first cases on Thursday.
They said there had been an outbreak of the Omicron variant in the capital, Pyongyang, and announced lockdown measures. They did not give precise case numbers.
But in an update on Friday, the official KCNA news agency reported that the outbreak extended beyond the capital. “A fever whose cause couldn’t be identified spread explosively nationwide from late April,” it said.
North Korea rejected offers from the international community to supply millions of AstraZeneca and Chinese-made jabs last year. Instead, it claimed it had controlled COVID by sealing its borders early in January 2020.
The country shares land borders with South Korea and China, which have both battled outbreaks. China is now struggling to contain an Omicron wave with lockdowns in its biggest cities.
North Korea On Lockdown
On Friday, KCNA reported that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had visited a healthcare center and “learned about the nationwide spread of Covid-19”.
At a meeting outlining new COVID-19 rules on Thursday, Mr. Kim was seen wearing a face mask on television for what was believed to be the first time.
He ordered “maximum emergency” virus controls, which appeared to include orders for local lockdowns and gathering restrictions in workplaces.
There are fears a major outbreak could make it even more difficult for essential supplies to enter the country, leading to worsening food shortages and a faltering economy.
South Korea has said it offered humanitarian aid after Thursday’s announcement, but Pyongyang is yet to respond.
Despite North Korea’s earlier claims that it had “shining success” in keeping out Covid, there have been signs throughout the pandemic of its possible presence in the country including unconfirmed reports of cases and workers wearing hazmat suits.
State media have reported an Omicron outbreak in the capital, Pyongyang, but did not state the number of cases.
North Korea has rejected any kind of vaccine program, even when offered a supply by other countries.
Instead, it controlled COVID by sealing its borders – and had never recorded a case, despite experts believing the virus has long been present.
Outsiders say the nation’s 25 million population is vulnerable due to the lack of a Covid-19 vaccine program, even rejecting offers from the international community to supply millions of AstraZeneca and Chinese-made Sinovac jabs last year.
There have also been concerns about North Korea’s impoverished healthcare system.
KCNA said leader Kim Jong-un had vowed to eradicate the outbreak, which it called a “severe national emergency” that had breached the country’s “quarantine front”.
At the meeting outlining the new COVID rules, Kim was seen wearing a face mask on television for what is believed to be the first time. He soon removed it, while other officials present kept theirs on.
Source: BBC News