North Korea confirms first coronavirus death; 350,000 reported “fever”

Experts are concerned that North Korea’s health system will not be able to handle the spread of COVID among the unvaccinated population.

North Korea has confirmed its first COVID-19 death, and says hundreds of thousands of people have a “fever,” the first indication of the scale of the outbreak among its largely unvaccinated population.

The nuclear-armed state announced last Thursday The first outbreak of the Corona virus Since the epidemic began, it has moved into lockdown after people in the capital, Pyongyang, tested positive for the Omicron variant.

“The fever, whose cause was not determined explosively, has spread across the country since late April,” the official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday.

“Six people died (one tested positive for the Omicron BA.2 subvariant),” she added.

About 350,000 people have shown signs of “fever,” while 187,800 are being treated in isolation, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Experts are concerned that North Korea’s deteriorating health system will not be able to handle the spread of COVID-19 given that 26 million people have not been vaccinated against the virus after Pyongyang rejected millions of doses provided under the WHO-led COVAX program. The country also has limited testing resources.

“With the first official news of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, continuing on this path could cost many lives and would be an unreasonable failure to uphold the right to health,” Buram Jang, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Many North Koreans are also in poor health as a result Food shortage and malnutritionThis makes it more difficult for the immune system to fight the disease.

A 2019 study ranked North Korea 193 out of 195 countries in its ability to deal with a health care crisis.

“It is imperative that the government act now to protect the right to health of one of the world’s people with the lowest access to vaccines and one of its most fragile health systems. This means providing access to vaccines without discrimination and ensuring a transparent vaccine distribution plan that is subject to public scrutiny.”

Leader Kim Jong Un – who was seen wearing a mask on state television for the first time – declared the “most severe emergency” and ordered a nationwide lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

The Korean Central News Agency said Kim was briefed during a visit to the state headquarters for emergency epidemic prevention on Thursday, where he criticized officials for their handling of the outbreak.

“It is the most important challenge and supreme task facing our party to reverse the situation of the immediate public health crisis at an early date, restore the stability of epidemic prevention and protect the health and well-being of our people,” Kim was quoted by the Korean Central News Agency as saying.

Officials in uniform line up on the balcony to watch the massive crowd in Kim Il Sung Square
North Korea held major celebrations last month, including marking 110 years since founder Kim II Sung was born, analysts say with just a few masks, the events could have helped spread the virus. [KCNA via Reuters]

North Korea said the first cases appeared in the capital, Pyongyang, in April.

While state media did not provide details of the reason, the city hosted many huge crowds celebrations That month, as most people didn’t wear masks.

“a necklace Military parade “It was attended by a large crowd, when Omicron was raging in neighboring China, it shows that Pyongyang was confident in its capabilities to combat and prevent the virus,” Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute told AFP.

He said North Korea is likely to experience “big chaos” due to the rapid spread of omicron, given that the country is currently reporting nearly 20,000 cases in a single day.

“If the Omicron death toll rises, Pyongyang may have to seek China’s support,” he added.

China, the main ally of Pyongyang, is trying to eliminate dozens of outbreaks of the Corona virus and imposed closures and restrictions In cities including Dandong, North Korea’s main transit point.

On Thursday, it said it was ready to help, although Pyongyang had previously rejected its offer to send vaccines.

On Friday, South Korea also offered to help with a presidential spokeswoman saying that President Yoon Seok-yeol wants to provide the people of North Korea with vaccines and other medicines for COVID-19 on humanitarian grounds.

The president’s office said North Korea had yet to submit a “request for assistance,” and the handover would depend on talks with Pyongyang.