SEOUL — The coronavirus has been spreading “at an explosive rate” in North Korea since late last month, killing six people and 187,800 in quarantine, North Korean state media reported on Friday.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said the country’s health officials made a rare acknowledgment of an emerging public health crisis, while its leader, Kim Jong Un, visited the country’s headquarters for disease control on Thursday.
In a sign of growing urgency, state-run CCTV showed Kim Jong-un wearing a mask at a Workers’ Party meeting for the first time.
Kim Jong-un was quoted as saying that the fact that the virus is spreading across the country means North Korea “has a loophole in its epidemiological system”.
North Korea says it has been informed first outbreak Health officials tested people with symptoms such as fever at an unidentified group in the capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday. They were confirmed to be infected with the BA.2 subvariant of the virus, it said.
The country declared a “maximum state of emergency” and ordered all cities and counties of the country’s 25 million people to go into lockdown to fight the spread of the virus.
North Korea acknowledges the outbreak is a sudden change for the enigmatic country, which has long insisted there are no cases of the virus that first emerged in neighboring China more than two years ago. However, outside experts have been skeptical, citing a lack of widespread coronavirus testing and North Korea’s antiquated public health system.
Mr King said 350,000 people had developed a fever since late April, including 18,000 on Thursday. He added that 162,200 people have been successfully treated. Reports of the outbreak have so far been vague, such as how many of the 350,000 people who were found to have a fever tested positive for the virus.
“Like any other data from North Korea, these numbers are open to question and we cannot fully trust them,” said Ahn Kyung-su, who is based in Seoul. DPRKHealth.org, a website and network of public health experts who study North Korea. “But it’s clear that North Korea has a coronavirus phenomenon, and by publishing these data, North Korea seems to be signaling that it is finally ready to receive coronavirus-related assistance from outside.”
North Korea has so far not received any pandemic-related humanitarian aid, including vaccine donations from the World Health Organization. South Korean officials hope humanitarian supplies, including a Covid-19 vaccine, will help restart diplomatic dialogue between North Korea and the United States and its allies.
The Covid-19 outbreak poses a greater danger in North Korea than in most other countries, because most North Koreans are not vaccinated. Outside health experts have long questioned North Korea’s ability to fight a massive outbreak, despite the regime’s ability to impose strict controls on the movements of its residents.
Failure to bring the outbreak under control could increase pressure on the country’s economy, which is already hit hard Due to years of UN sanctions and a decision two years ago to close the border with China, its only major trading partner, to prevent the spread of the virus.
North Korea fired three ballistic missiles from near Pyongyang into waters off its east coast, hours after acknowledging the outbreak on Thursday, South Korea’s military said. It was North Korea’s 16th missile test this year, a sign that North Korea is pushing ahead with weapons testing despite the virus threat.