SEOUL — The coronavirus has spread “at an explosive rate” across North Korea since late last month, killing six people and leaving 187,800 quarantined, North Korean state media reported Friday.
North Korea’s state-run KCNA reported that health officials acknowledged the emerging public health crisis while Chairman Kim Jong-un visited the national quarantine headquarters on Thursday.
As a sign of the rapidly changing urgency, state-run central television showed for the first time Chairman Kim wearing a mask at a Labor Party meeting.
The fact that the virus is spreading across the country means that there are “holes in the epidemiological system” in North Korea, Kim said.
North Korea said on Sunday that it learned of the first case after health officials tested people with symptoms such as fever from an unidentified organization in the capital Pyongyang. They said they were confirmed to be infected with the BA.2 substrain of the virus.
The state has declared a “maximum state of emergency” and has ordered all cities and counties with a population of 25 million to close to contain the spread.
North Korea’s acknowledgment of the outbreak was an abrupt change to a secretive state that had long claimed no cases of the virus first emerged in neighboring China two years ago. However, outside experts were skeptical because of the lack of extensive coronavirus testing and North Korea’s poor public health system.
Kim said 350,000 people, including 18,000, have contracted the fever since the end of April on Thursday. He added that 162,200 people were treated successfully. Reports of outbreaks have been vague, without clarifying, for example, how many of the 350,000 people confirmed to have a fever tested positive for the virus.
“Like other data from North Korea, the figures are controversial and cannot be completely trusted,” said Ahn Kyung-soo, head of the Seoul-based operation. DPRKHealth.org, a website and network of public health experts who study North Korea. But what is clear is that North Korea has COVID-19, and by disclosing these numbers, it appears that North Korea is finally sending a signal that it is ready to accept outside aid.”
So far, North Korea has not received humanitarian aid related to the pandemic, including a vaccine donation from the World Health Organization (WHO). South Korean officials hope that humanitarian aid, including a COVID-19 vaccine, can help resume diplomatic dialogue between North Korea, the United States and its allies.
Because most North Koreans have not been vaccinated, the risk from the coronavirus outbreak is greater in North Korea than in most other countries. Outside health experts have long questioned the North Korean regime’s ability to fight large-scale outbreaks, despite being able to tightly control the movement of its people.
The outbreak, if not quickly controlled, could increase the burden on the country’s economy, already hit hard by years of UN sanctions and the closing of its border with China, its only major trading partner, two years ago. spread of the virus.
The military said that North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the East Sea from near Pyongyang just hours after acknowledging the outbreak on the 10th. North Korea conducted its 16th missile test this year, suggesting that it is pushing for a weapon test launch despite the virus threat.