(Seoul) North Korea announced its first death from COVID-19 on Friday, saying the virus has already spread across the country and tens of thousands of people are currently “being isolated and being treated.”
Posted at 8:23pm
The withdrawn country on Thursday reported its first cases of coronavirus and said it was going into “maximum emergency epidemic prevention” mode after people tested positive for Omicrons subvariant BA.2.
Official KCNA news agency said on Friday that leader Kim Jong-un visited the national epidemic prevention headquarters, where he “learned about the spread of COVID-19 across the country.”
Six people with “fever” have died in the country, including one who tested positive for the Omicron subvariant BA.2, KCNA said.
“A fever, the cause of which could not be identified, exploded across the country from late April,” KCNA said.
“More than 350,000 people have fevers in a short period of time and at least 162,200 of them are completely cured,” the same source explained. “On May 12 alone, about 18,000 people across the country had a fever and currently 187,800 people are isolated and being treated.”
None of the country’s 25 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and Pyongyang has turned down offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organization, China and Russia.
Kim Jong-un, who made his TV appearance wearing a mask for the first time, chaired an emergency Politburo meeting on Thursday on the situation with the epidemic. He ordered containment measures to curb the spread of the virus.
“This is our party’s most important challenge and task to quickly reverse this health crisis situation,” KCNA said.
North Korea, which became one of the first countries in the world to shut its borders in January 2020 after the virus emerged in neighboring China, has long boasted of its ability to keep the virus at bay. She had previously reported no confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the WHO.
Big health crisis?
The virus may already have spread across the country, analysts say, including major events in April in Pyongyang, including an April 25 military parade in which neither participants nor spectators wore a mask.
“The staging of a military parade attended by large crowds as the Omicron raged in neighboring China shows that Pyongyang was overconfident in fighting and preventing the virus,” he told Reuters AFP Cheong Seong-chang, North Korea- Specialist at the Sejong Institute.
The country could face a major health crisis as Omicron is highly transmissible, he said, recalling that Pyongyang reported nearly 20,000 cases in a single day.
“If the Omicron death toll skyrockets, Pyongyang may have to seek support from neighboring China,” he added.
Beijing on Thursday offered aid to North Korea, whose health infrastructure is notoriously failing.
However, China, the only major economy in the world to adhere to a zero-COVID-19 policy, has grappled with multiple outbreaks of omicron despite strict lockdown measures and massive testing across the country.
Mr Kim ordered “containment” measures and ordered that “those affected should be isolated and treated responsibly,” KCNA reported.
Hours after North Korea reported its first cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, it launched ballistic missiles.
The administration of South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol has blasted the new tests as part of a “permanent provocation to launch ballistic missiles despite the coronavirus outbreak”.