North Korea reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 additional fever symptoms on Saturday.across the unvaccinated population.
The number of new deaths and cases, which started on Friday, has risen to 27 and the disease to 524,440 due to the rapid spread of fever since the end of April. North Korea says 243,630 people have recovered and 280,810 are in quarantine. State media did not specify how many fever cases and deaths have been confirmed as COVID-19 infections.
The country implemented a nationwide lockdown on Thursday after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 since the outbreak began. Previously, it had maintained for more than two years the widely dubious claim of a perfect record of stopping a virus that had spread almost everywhere in the world.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a virus vaccine strategy meeting on Saturday described the outbreak as historically “great chaos” and called for unity between the government and the people to stabilize the outbreak as soon as possible.
Chairman Kim expressed optimism that the country will be able to control the outbreak, saying that most of the transmission does not spread from region to region but rather occurs within communities isolated from each other. Since Thursday, the state has taken stronger precautions to limit the movement of people and goods between cities and counties, but descriptions of these measures in the state media indicate that people are not locked up at home.
Experts say that failure to control the spread of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences for North Korea, given the country’s poor health care system and 26 million people unvaccinated.
Tests of virus samples collected on Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fever in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, confirmed they were infected with the Omicron strain, state media said. The country has so far officially confirmed one death related to an Omicron infection.
North Korea’s response to the pandemic, which lacks vaccines, antiviral drugs, intensive care units and other key medical tools to fight the virus, is mostly to isolate symptomatic people in designated shelters, experts say.
North Korea says it lacks the skills and other resources to impose extreme lockdowns like China, which has shut down entire cities and kept residents at home, and cannot afford to do so, risking further shocks to its fragile economy. Min Hong, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Chairman Kim stressed the need to achieve the country’s economic goals while calling for stronger preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, which will continue to attract large groups of people in agriculture, industry and construction sites.
As an isolated North Korea is extremely proud and sensitive to external perceptions of a self-proclaimed ‘socialist utopia’, it is unusual to acknowledge the outbreak of an epidemic, let alone an epidemic as threatening as COVID-19. However, experts are divided on whether North Korea’s announcement of an outbreak is willing to seek outside help.
Countries have avoided the millions of doses provided by the UN-funded COVAX distribution program, perhaps because of concerns about the international monitoring requirements attached to those injections.
North Korea is more tolerant of civilian suffering than most other countries, and some experts say it may be willing to accept a certain level of death toll to gain immunity through infection rather than getting a vaccine or other outside help.
South Korea’s new conservative government, led by President Yun Seok-yeol, who came to power on Tuesday, has offered to send vaccines and other medical supplies to North Korea as a humanitarian measure, but South Korean officials say North Korea has never asked for help.
The spread of the virus may have accelerated after tens of thousands of civilians and troops gathered for a massive military parade in Pyongyang on April 25.
North Korea resumed rail freight transportation with China in February to ease the strain on its economy after maintaining the world’s strictest border closures for two years to protect its poor health care system. However, China confirmed route closures last month as it battles the COVID-19 outbreak in its border areas.