North Korea confirms 21 new deaths while fighting COVID-19
North Korea confirms 21 new deaths while fighting COVID-19

North Korea confirms 21 new deaths while fighting COVID-19

North Korea on Saturday reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 more people with fever symptoms as the country moves down to slow down the spread of COVID-19 across its unvaccinated population.

The new deaths and cases, which were from Friday, increased the total number to 27 deaths and 524,440 diseases amid a rapid spread of fever since the end of April. North Korea said 243,630 people had recovered and 280,810 remained in quarantine. State media did not specify how many of the fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 infections.

The country imposed nationwide lockdowns on Thursday after confirming its first COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. It had previously held for more than two years to a very dubious claim of a perfect record that keeps out the virus that has spread to almost everywhere in the world.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, during a meeting on antivirus strategies on Saturday, described the outbreak as a historic “huge disruption” and called for unity between the government and the people to stabilize the outbreak as soon as possible.

Kim expressed optimism that the country could bring the outbreak under control, saying most transfers take place in communities that are isolated from each other and do not spread from region to region. The country has since Thursday imposed stronger preventive measures aimed at restricting the movement of people and supplies between cities and counties, but state media descriptions of the steps indicate that people are not confined to their homes.

Experts say a lack of control over the spread of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences in North Korea given the country’s poor health system, and that its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated.

Tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fever in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant, state media said. The country has so far officially confirmed that one death is associated with an omicron infection.

Virus outbreak Japan North Korea
A passerby walks past a screen showing a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wearing a face mask on a TV news program in Tokyo, Friday, May 13, 2022.

Shuji Kajiyama / AP

In the absence of vaccines, antiviral pills, intensive care units and other important health tools to fight the virus, North Korea’s pandemic response will mostly be about isolating people with symptoms at designated shelters, experts say.

North Korea does not have the technological and other resources to impose extreme lockdowns such as China, which has shut down entire cities and restricted residents to their homes, nor can it afford to do so at the risk of triggering further shocks to a fragile economy. said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

Even when he called for stronger preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, Kim also stressed that the country’s economic goals should be met, which is likely to mean that large groups will continue to congregate on agricultural, industrial and construction sites.

It is unusual for isolated North Korea to admit an outbreak of any infectious disease, let alone one as threatening as COVID-19, as it is intensely proud and sensitive to outside perceptions of its self-described “socialist utopia.” But the experts are mixed about whether the Nordic region’s announcement of the outbreak communicates a willingness to receive outside help.

The country had avoided millions of doses offered by the UN-funded COVAX distribution program, possibly due to concerns about international surveillance requirements associated with these shots.

North Korea has a higher tolerance for civilian ailments than most other nations, and some experts say the country could be willing to accept a certain level of fatalities to gain immunity through infection, instead of receiving vaccines and other outside help .

South Korea’s new conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office on Tuesday, has offered to send vaccines and other medical supplies to North Korea for humanitarian reasons, but Seoul officials say North Korea has so far made no request for help.

The viral spread could have been accelerated after an estimated tens of thousands of civilians and troops gathered for a massive military parade in Pyongyang on April 25, where Kim took center stage and showcased the most powerful missiles in his military nuclear program.

After maintaining one of the world’s strictest border closures for two years to protect its poor health system, North Korea had reopened rail freight traffic with China in February, apparently to ease the strain on the country’s economy. But China confirmed the closure of the route last month as it battled COVID-19 outbreaks in border areas.

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