North Korea announces first Covid deaths amid ‘explosive’ outbreak

North Korea on Thursday reported 18,000 new “fever cases” and all six deaths, one of which tested positive for Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant, state media KCNA reported on Friday. .

“A fever whose cause could not be identified has spread explosively throughout the country since late April,” the newspaper said. “As of today, up to 187,800 people are in isolation.”

A Covid-19 outbreak could prove disastrous for North Korea. The country’s dilapidated healthcare infrastructure is unlikely to be up to the task of treating large numbers of patients with a highly infectious disease and the country is not known to have imported vaccines against the coronavirus.

North Korea had previously acknowledged no cases of coronavirus, although few believe a country of around 25 million people has been spared a virus that has infected millions around the world.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the state headquarters for emergency epidemic prevention on Thursday and acknowledged that the spread of the epidemic meant there was a “vulnerable point” in the country’s epidemic prevention system, according to KCNA.

“It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation,” Kim said, according to KCNA.

Following a meeting of the country’s powerful politburo on Thursday, North Korea placed all cities under quarantine and ordered “people with fever or abnormal symptoms” to self-quarantine, KCNA said.

On Thursday, China declared itself ready to support North Korea in its fight against Covid-19.

North Korea’s borders have been sealed since January 2020 to keep the virus at bay, despite the ripple effects on trade with Beijing, an economic lifeline the impoverished country needs to keep its people from going hungry. .

“As comrades, neighbors and friends, China stands ready to give full support to the DPRK in its fight against the epidemic,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a briefing. a press briefing.

As China battles its own outbreak, China’s National Immigration Administration has urged Jilin province – which borders North Korea – to step up health inspections at its customs after North Korea reported its first case of Covid-19.

Zero vaccine could spell disaster

North Korea is believed not to have received any Covid vaccines, despite being eligible for the global Covid-19 vaccine-sharing program, Covax.

In February, Covax reportedly reduced the number of doses allocated to North Korea because the country did not organize any shipments, according to Reuters.

Assuming most of North Korea’s population is unvaccinated, an outbreak in North Korea — which has limited testing capabilities, inadequate medical infrastructure and has isolated itself from the outside world — could quickly turn deadly. .

Calls are increasing to the country’s leaders to provide access to vaccines.

“There is no evidence that North Korea has access to enough vaccines to protect its population from Covid-19. Yet it rejected millions of doses of AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines offered by the WHO-led COVAX program,” Amnesty International said. Boram Jang, East Asia researcher, 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 an unconscionable failure to uphold the right to health.”

From CNN, Philip Wang contributed.

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