SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Saturday reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 more people with fever symptoms as the country scrambles to slow the spread of COVID-19 across its unvaccinated population.
The new deaths and cases, which were from Friday, increased total numbers to 27 deaths and 524,440 illnesses amid a rapid spread of fever since late April. North Korea said 243,630 people had recovered and 280,810 remained in quarantine. State media didn’t specify how many of the fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 infections.
The country imposed what it described as maximum preventive measures on Thursday after confirming its first COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The country had held the position for two years, contrary to widely questioned claims of a perfect record in preventing the spread of the virus to almost every part of the globe.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described Saturday’s outbreak as a historic “great upheaval”, and called for unity between government and people in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Officials discussed how to quickly distribute the medical supplies that the country had released from its emergency reserves. This was according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency. According to the Politburo’s report, the North’s emergency epidemic office said that most deaths were due to “mistakes such as overmuch drug taking
Kim, who stated that he was donating some private medicine supplies to support the anti-virus campaign. He also expressed optimism that the country would be able to control the virus. Kim claimed that most transmissions occur in isolated communities and are not spreading from one region to another.
He called on officials to learn from other countries’ successful pandemic responses and pointed out China as an example.
China, however, has been facing pressure to change its so-called “zero-COVID” strategy that has brought major cities to a standstill as it struggles to slow the fast-moving omicron variant.
North Korea has taken steps to restrict the movement of people, supplies and goods between its cities and counties since Thursday. However, the state media descriptions of these measures show that people are not being restricted to their homes.
Experts say a failure to control the spread of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences in North Korea, considering the country’s poor health care system and that its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated.
State media reported that virus samples were taken from a number of fever-stricken people in Pyongyang on Sunday to confirm they had been infected by the omicron variant. One death has been confirmed by the country as being caused by an omicron virus infection.
With no vaccines, antiviral drugs, or other major tools to combat the virus, North Korea will focus its pandemic response on isolating those with symptoms at designated shelters.
North Korea does not have the technological or other resources to put on extreme lockdowns such as China. It cannot afford to risk further economic shock.
Even as he called for stronger preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, Kim has also stressed that the country’s economic goals should be met, which likely means huge groups will continue to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
The claim that North Korea has maintained a perfect record of keeping the virus out for two and a half years was widely questioned. However, the North Korean government’s strict border closing, large-scale quarantines, and propaganda that stressed the importance of anti-virus control as a matter “national existence” may have prevented a major outbreak.
Experts differ on whether the North’s declaration of the outbreak indicates a willingness to accept outside assistance.
The country refused to receive millions of doses from the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution programme. This may have been due to concerns about international monitoring requirements.
North Korea has a higher tolerance for civilian suffering than mos