- HYONHEE SHIN and JOSH SMITH
Seoul, South Korea
At least one person with confirmed COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown symptoms of fever, state media said on Friday, offering clues to the potentially disastrous scale of the outbreak. first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic in the country.
About 187,800 people are being treated in isolation after a fever of unidentified origin “spread explosively across the country” since late April, the official KCNA news agency reported.
People wearing protective face masks commute amid concerns over the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pyongyang, North Korea on March 30, 2020, in this photo released by Kyodo. PHOTO: Kyodo/via Reuters/File.
About 350,000 people have shown signs of the fever, including 18,000 who recently reported such symptoms on Thursday, KCNA said. About 162,200 have been treated, but he did not say how many tested positive for COVID-19.
At least six people who showed symptoms of fever have died, with one of those cases confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the virus command center on Thursday to check on the situation and responses after declaring a “most serious state of emergency” and ordering a nationwide lockdown on Thursday.
North Korea said the outbreak started in the capital of Pyongyang in April. State media did not specify the cause of the outbreak, but the city held several massive public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large rallies where most people were not wearing masks. .
Kim “criticized that the simultaneous spread of the fever with the capital region as the center shows that there is a vulnerability point in the epidemic prevention system that we have already established,” KCNA said.
Kim said the active isolation and treatment of people with fever was a top priority, while calling for scientific treatment methods and tactics “at lightning speed” and stepping up drug supply measures.
In a separate dispatch, KCNA said health authorities are trying to organize testing and treatment systems and step up disinfection work.
The rapid spread of the virus highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources, has refused international help with vaccinations and has kept its borders closed.
Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to worsen the isolated country’s already difficult food situation this year, as the lockdown would hamper its “all-out fight” against drought and the mobilization of labour.
North Korea had withheld vaccine supplies from the global COVAX sharing program and China, perhaps leaving the vast majority of people in a relatively young society at higher risk of infection.
Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s new candidate for unification minister responsible for inter-Korean relations, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he was ready to push for humanitarian aid for the North, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical care. Provisions.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said it had no plans to send vaccines to North Korea, but supported international efforts to provide aid to vulnerable people there, urging Pyongyang to facilitate this work.
Meanwhile, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles at sea off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea and Japan said, in its latest tests to advance its weapons programs, as even as it was reporting a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time.
Three short-range ballistic missiles were fired at around 6:30 p.m. from the Sunan area of North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, home to an international airport and where it fired its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-17 , March 24, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The missiles traveled about 360 kilometers, reaching an altitude of 90 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 5, the JCS said.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-han spoke by phone and condemned the latest launch as a violation of UN bans, the White House said, but the military American said he posed no immediate threat to America or its allies.
– With DAVID BRUNNSTROM and RAMI AYYUB in Washington DC.