North Korea reports first COVID-19 death after 350,000 fever sufferers

North Korea reports first COVID-19 death after 350,000 fever sufferers

SEOUL, May 13 (Reuters) – At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown symptoms of fever, state media said on Friday, giving clues to the potentially horrific extent of the the country’s first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic.

About 187,800 people are being treated in isolation after a fever of unknown origin “explosively spread across the country” since late April, official KCNA news agency reported.

Around 350,000 people have shown signs of the fever, including 18,000 who newly reported such symptoms Thursday, KCNA said. About 162,200 have been treated, but it hasn’t said how many have tested positive for COVID-19.

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At least six people who showed symptoms of fever died, with one of those cases confirmed to have contracted the omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the antivirus command center on Thursday to review the situation and responses after declaring a “most severe state of emergency” and ordering a national lockdown on Thursday. Continue reading

North Korea said the outbreak began in the capital Pyongyang in April. State media did not elaborate on the cause of the outbreak, but the city held several large public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.

Kim “criticized that the simultaneous spread of the fever with the capital area as the center shows that there is a flaw in the disease prevention system we have already established,” KCNA said.

Kim said actively isolating and treating people with fever is a top priority, while calling for scientific treatment methods and tactics “at a lightning pace” and strengthening drug supply measures.

In another release, KCNA said health authorities are trying to organize testing and treatment systems and step up disinfection work.

The rapid spread of the virus shows the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources, has refused international help with vaccinations and has kept its borders closed.

Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to deepen the isolated country’s already difficult food situation this year, as the lockdown would hamper the “all-out fight” against the drought and labor mobilization. Continue reading

North Korea had turned down vaccine shipments from the global COVAX sharing program and China, potentially putting the vast majority of people at higher risk of infection in a relatively young society.

Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s new nominee for unification minister in charge of inter-Korean relations, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he was ready to push for humanitarian aid to the north, including COVID treatment, injections and other medical supplies supply supplies.

A US State Department spokesman said it has no plans to send vaccines to North Korea but supports international efforts to provide assistance to vulnerable people there and urged Pyongyang to facilitate that work.

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Edited by Leslie Adler, Alistair Bell and David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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