North Korea reports 15 more suspected COVID-19 deaths


North Korea has confirmed 15 more deaths and hundreds of thousands more patients with flu-like symptoms as it mobilizes more than a million health and other workers to try to quell the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported on Sunday.

After more than two years of maintaining a widely disputed claim of being coronavirus-free, North Korea announced Thursday that it had found its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

Since then, the fever has spread “explosively” across the country since late April, but has not disclosed exactly how many COVID-19 cases have been found. Some experts say North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test large numbers of suspected COVID-19 patients.

The additional deaths reported on Sunday brought the country’s reported fever-related deaths to 42. The official Korean Central News Agency also reported that an additional 296,180 people were counted with flu symptoms, bringing the reported total to 820,620.

The outbreak has raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis in North Korea as it is believed most of the country’s 26 million people are unvaccinated against the coronavirus and the public health system has been in shambles for decades. Some experts say North Korea could suffer large death tolls if it doesn’t receive prompt shipments of vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies from outside.

North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to fight the virus since Thursday. Observers say it could further weigh on the country’s fragile economy, which has suffered in recent years from severely reduced foreign trade caused by pandemic-related border closures punishing UN economic sanctions over its nuclear program and its own mismanagement.

During a meeting on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described the outbreak as a historic “great upheaval” and called for unity between the government and the people to stabilize the outbreak as soon as possible.

KCNA said Sunday more than 1.3 million people were involved in works to screen and treat sick people and raise public awareness of hygiene. It said anyone with a fever and others with abnormal symptoms would be quarantined and treated.

Of those with symptoms, 496,030 have recovered, while 324,4550 were still being treated as of Saturday, KCNA reported, citing the country’s Emergency Prevention Center.

According to state media reports, Kim and other top North Korean officials are donating their private reserve medicines to help the country’s fight against the pandemic. During Saturday’s meeting, Kim expressed optimism that the country could bring the outbreak under control, saying most transmissions occur in communities that are isolated from one another and do not spread from region to region. North Korea reports 15 more suspected COVID-19 deaths

Bobby Allyn

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