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

SEOUL: North Korea reported an additional 15 “fever” deaths on Sunday, days after officially confirming its first Covid-19 cases and ordering nationwide lockdowns.
The outbreak, which leader Kim Jong Un says is causing “great upheaval,” leaves a country with one of the world’s worst health systems on the brink of potential disaster.
North Korea has no Covid vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs, or mass testing capacity.
While it has maintained a rigid coronavirus lockdown since the start of the pandemic, experts have said Omicron’s massive outbreaks in neighboring countries meant it was only a matter of time before covid crept in.
Despite activating a “maximum emergency quarantine system” to curb the spread of the disease among its unvaccinated population, Pyongyang is now reporting a large number of new cases daily.
The official state media KCNA said on Sunday that 42 people had died since the start of the outbreak, with 820,620 cases and at least 324,550 receiving medical treatment.
The news agency reported that “all provinces, cities and counties in the country have been fully locked down, and work units, production units and residential units have been closed off from each other.”
North Korea first revealed that the highly contagious Omicron variant had been detected in the capital on Thursday, with Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns after an emergency meeting of the country’s Politburo.
“The spread of malignant diseases becomes a great disorder in our country,” Kim said on Saturday.
Sunday’s KCNA report did not specify whether the new cases and deaths have tested positive for Covid-19, but experts say the country will struggle to detect and diagnose on this scale.
North Korea’s health system was ranked 193rd 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 maintaining a zero-Covid policy, is battling multiple Omicron outbreaks, with lockdowns in some major cities, including the financial hub of Shanghai, sparking growing public frustration.
North Korea previously rejected Covid vaccine offers from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, but both Beijing and Seoul have issued new aid and vaccine offers since the outbreak was announced.
Despite the public health crisis, new satellite images indicate that North Korea has resumed construction of a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, the regime’s seventh, and that it could happen at any time.
Analysts warned that Kim could speed up plans for nuclear tests to distract the North Korean population from the disastrous coronavirus outbreak.

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