North Korea reported 15 more deaths from “fever” on Sunday, days after officially confirming its first Covid-19 case and ordering a nationwide lockdown.
Leader Kim Jong Un said the outbreak was causing “tremendous unrest”, putting a country with one of the worst healthcare systems in the world on the brink of potential disaster.
North Korea does not have a coronavirus vaccine, antiviral treatment, or mass testing capacity.
While it has maintained a strict coronavirus lockdown since the pandemic began, experts say a massive outbreak of Omicron in neighbouring countries means it is only a matter of time before Covid creeps in.
Pyongyang is now reporting a large number of new cases every day, despite the activation of a “maximum emergency quarantine system” to slow the spread of the disease among the unvaccinated population.
The state-run KCNA news agency said on Sunday that 42 people had died since the outbreak, including 820,620, and at least 324,550 received treatment.
The news agency reported that “all provinces, cities and counties across the country have completely closed down cities, and units, production units, and residential units are closed to each other.”
North Korea revealed for the first time on Thursday that a highly contagious variant of Omicron had been found in the capital, after Kim ordered a nationwide lockdown after an emergency meeting of the country’s Politburo.
“The spread of a vicious disease has caused great unrest in our country,” Kim said Saturday.
–Learn from China–
The KCNA report on Sunday did not specify whether the new cases and deaths were positive for Covid-19, but experts said it would be difficult for the country to conduct screening and diagnosis on this scale.
In a 2021 Johns Hopkins University survey, North Korea’s healthcare system ranked 193 out of 195 countries.
Kim Jong-un has said the country will “actively learn” China’s pandemic management strategy, according to KCNA.
China, the only major economy in the world still maintaining a zero-coronavirus policy, is battling multiple Omicron outbreaks – with lockdowns in some major cities, including financial hub Shanghai, sparking growing public frustration .
North Korea has previously rejected Covid vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covid program, but Beijing and Seoul have both offered new aid and vaccines since the outbreak began.
Despite the public health crisis, new satellite imagery shows North Korea has resumed construction on a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim Jong Un is preparing for another nuclear test — the regime’s seventh — that could happen at any time.
Analysts have warned that Kim Jong-un may speed up his nuclear test program to distract North Koreans from the catastrophic coronavirus outbreak.