North Korea announced on Friday its first death from Covid-19, adding that the virus had already spread across the country and that tens of thousands of people had been “isolated and treated.”
The reclusive country reported its first cases of coronavirus on Thursday, announcing a switch to a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention” regime after people tested positive for the BA.2 sub-option of Omicron.
The official KCNA news agency reported on Friday that leader Kim Jong-un visited the National Epidemic Prevention Headquarters, where he “learned about the spread of Covid-19 throughout the country.”
Six people with “fever” have died in the country, including one who tested positive for the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, according to the KCNA.
“More than 350,000 people fell ill with a fever in a short time, and at least 162,200 of them were completely cured,” the same source specified. According to the same source, “on May 12 alone” 18,000 people across the country were found to have symptoms and “187,800 people are isolated and being treated.”
None of the country’s 25 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and Pyongyang is rejecting vaccination offers from the World Health Organization, China and Russia.
Kim Jong-un, who first appeared on television wearing a mask, presided over an emergency Politburo meeting on the epidemic situation on Thursday. He ordered measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“This is the most important challenge and the most important task facing our party to quickly turn the tide on the health crisis,” KCNA said.
North Korea, which was one of the first countries in the world to close its borders in January 2020 after the virus emerged in neighboring China, has long boasted of its ability to contain the virus. So far, the WHO has not reported any confirmed cases of Covid-19.
A World Health Organization spokesman for North Korea said on Friday that WHO helped Pyongyang develop a vaccination plan earlier this year.
In South Korea, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s new administration has offered to send vaccines to the North, but clarified that it has not yet discussed this with Pyongyang.
– Serious health crisis? –
The virus may have already spread across the country, analysts said, including major April events in Pyongyang, including an April 25 military parade in which neither participants nor spectators wore masks.
“Holding a military parade that was attended by a large crowd while Omicron raged in neighboring China shows that Pyongyang was too confident in its ability to fight the virus and prevent it,” AFP said. Sejong Institute.
He said the country could face a major health crisis as Omicron is highly contagious, noting that Pyongyang has reported almost 20,000 cases in one day.
“If the death toll from Omicron rises sharply, Pyongyang may have to turn to China for support,” he added.
Beijing on Thursday offered aid to North Korea, whose healthcare infrastructure is notoriously failing.
However, China, the only major economy in the world with a zero-Covid policy, is battling multiple Omicron outbreaks despite strict restrictions and mass testing across the country.
On Friday, Kim Jong-un “said that the top priority is to prevent the spread of the virus by actively locking down areas and isolating and treating people with fever responsibly,” according to KCNA.
Hours after reporting the first cases of Covid on Thursday, North Korea launched ballistic missiles.
The administration of South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has criticized the new tests as part of a “constant ballistic missile launch provocation despite the coronavirus outbreak.”