21 more dead as North Korea battles Covid outbreak

North Korea on Saturday reported 21 more deaths from “fever” two days after the country announced its first Covid-19 case and ordered a nationwide lockdown.

State media said 174,440 new cases of fever and 21 deaths were identified on Friday alone as it entered the “maximum emergency isolation system” to slow the spread of the disease among the unvaccinated population.

“On May 13, there were 174,440 new fever cases nationwide, 81,430 recovered and 21 deaths,” KCNA reported.

The KCNA report did not specify whether the victims tested positive for Covid-19, but experts say the country lacks mass testing capacity.

“A total of 524,440 people have become sick nationwide, of which 234,630 have recovered, 288,810 are receiving treatment, and 27 have died.”

North Korea held its second Politburo meeting this week under the supervision of leader Kim Jong Un, who said the outbreak was causing “great turmoil” in the country, KCNA reported.

On Thursday, the country confirmed that people in the capital Pyongyang who had a fever had tested positive for Omicron, including one who died.

It was North Korea’s first official confirmation of a Covid case, marking the failure of a two-year coronavirus lockdown that has been in place at huge economic cost since the pandemic began.

State media said the death was due to “negligence due to lack of knowledge of scientific treatment methods, including drug overdose”.

The country’s top leaders’ meeting discussed “timely distribution of emergency medicines” and introduced “scientific treatment strategies and treatment methods for different patients, including those with special constitutions,” according to KCNA.

Kim Jong Un said he “believes that we can defeat this malicious contagion in the shortest time possible,” the report added.

North Korea’s crumbling health system — one of the worst in the world — lacks essential medicines and equipment, experts say.

The country has announced a nationwide lockdown, and Kim said they would follow China’s virus prevention model.

“We should learn from the experience and fruitful results of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people in preventing the virus,” he said.

China, the only major economy in the world that still maintains a zero-coronavirus policy, is itself battling multiple Omicron outbreaks — with some major cities including financial hub Shanghai under stay-at-home orders.

North Korea has previously rejected Covid vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covid program.

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