North Korea: North Korea reports 15 additional ‘fever’ deaths amid Covid outbreak

SEOUL: North Korea reported 15 additional deaths from “fever” on Sunday, days after the official confirmation of the first-ever Covid-19 cases and the order of nationwide lockdowns.
The outbreak, which according to leader Kim Jong Un is causing “major commotion”, leaves a country with one of the world’s worst health care systems on the brink of possible disaster.
North Korea has no Covid vaccines, antiviral drugs or mass testing capacity.
While it has maintained a rigid coronavirus lockdown since the start of the pandemic, experts have said massive Omicron outbreaks in neighboring countries meant it was only a matter of time before Covid crept in.
Despite activating a “maximum emergency quarantine system” to slow the spread of the disease through the unvaccinated population, Pyongyang now reports large numbers of new cases daily.
Official state media KCNA said on Sunday that 42 people had died since the outbreak began, with 820,620 cases and at least 324,550 receiving medical treatment.
The news agency reported that “all provinces, cities and provinces of the country have been completely shut down and that work units, production units and residential units have been cut off from each other.”
North Korea first revealed that the highly contagious Omicron variant had been discovered in the capital on Thursday, with Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns following an emergency meeting of the country’s Politburo.
“The spread of malignant diseases is going to be a major upheaval in our country,” Kim said on Saturday.
Sunday’s KCNA report did not specify whether the new cases and deaths tested positive for Covid-19, but experts say the country will struggle to screen and diagnose on this scale.
North Korea’s health care system ranked 193 out of 195 countries in a 2021 Johns Hopkins University survey.
Kim has said the country will “actively learn” from China’s pandemic management strategy, according to KCNA.
China, the world’s only major economy still enforcing a zero-Covid policy, is battling multiple Omicron outbreaks — with lockdowns in some major cities, including the financial hub Shanghai, leading to mounting public frustration.
North Korea has previously rejected offers of Covid vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax plan, but both Beijing and Seoul have made new offers of aid and vaccines since the outbreak was announced.
Despite the public health crisis, new satellite images show that North Korea has resumed construction of a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim is preparing for another nuclear test – the regime’s seventh – and that it could come any day.
Analysts have warned Kim could accelerate plans for nuclear tests to distract the people of North Korea from the disastrous coronavirus outbreak.

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