North Korea reports first COVID-19 death as fever ‘spreads explosively’

North Korea reports first COVID-19 death as fever 'spreads explosively'

SEOUL, May 13 (Reuters) – At least one person with confirmed COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown symptoms of a fever, state media said on Friday, offering clues about the potentially serious scale of the first confirmed outbreak. from the country. of the pandemic.

The data represents an unprecedented admission of an “explosive” outbreak in a country that had previously reported no confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and could mark a serious political, economic and public health crisis for the isolated regime.

Experts said given North Korea’s limited testing capabilities, the numbers released so far likely represent a small fraction of infections and could lead to thousands of deaths in one of only two countries in the world without a flu vaccination campaign. COVID-19.

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Some 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.

About 350,000 people have shown signs of the fever, including 18,000 who recently reported such symptoms on Thursday, the KCNA said. About 162,200 have been treated, but he did not specify how many have 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.

Kee Park of Harvard Medical School, who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the country has been testing about 1,400 people each week, which is not enough to survey 350,000 people with symptoms. .

“What is more worrying is the large number of symptomatic people,” he added. “Using a conservative case fatality rate of 1% and assuming the increase is due to an Omicron variant of COVID-19, North Korea can expect 3,500 deaths from this outbreak.”

‘EMERGENCY FROM THE TOMB’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the anti-virus command center on Thursday to check on the situation and responses after declaring a “more serious state of emergency” and ordering a nationwide lockdown, state media reported. read more

North Korea has said the outbreak began in the capital of Pyongyang in April. State media did not elaborate on the cause of the outbreak, but the city organized several massive public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.

Kim, who attended several such events, “criticized that the simultaneous spread of the fever with the capital area as the center shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system that we have already established,” KCNA said.

Kim said actively isolating and treating people with fever is a top priority, calling for “lightning-fast” scientific treatment methods and tactics and tightening measures to supply medicine.

In another dispatch, KCNA said health authorities were trying to organize test and treatment systems and strengthen 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 vaccines and has kept its borders closed.

Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to deepen the isolated country’s already dire food situation this year as the lockdown would hamper its “all-out fight” against drought and labor mobilization. read more

HELP CALLS

North Korea said last year that it had developed its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kit to test for COVID. But it rejected vaccine supplies from the COVAX global exchange program and China, possibly leaving the vast majority of people in a relatively young society at higher risk of infection. read more

North Korea has so far not released any new requests for help to counter the outbreak, but some observers were optimistic the disclosure was a sign the government would soon accept vaccines or other aid.

Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s newest candidate to be the unification minister responsible for inter-Korean relations, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he was willing to boost humanitarian assistance for the North, including COVID treatment. , syringes and other medicines. supplies.

A spokesman for the Unification Ministry said on Friday that about 95.4 billion won (US$74.1 million) from an inter-Korean cooperation fund was earmarked for facilitating exchanges in the field of health and medicine.

A US State Department spokesman said it had no plans to send vaccines to North Korea, but supported international efforts to provide help to vulnerable people there, and urged Pyongyang to facilitate that work. [nW1N2W304V]

($1 = 1,287.0400 won)

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Information from Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Edited by Leslie Adler, Alistair Bell and David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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