N. Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting COVID-19 outbreak

May 12, 2022, 3:51 AM | Updated: May 13, 2022, 4:52 am
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, top, visits...

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, top, visits state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters in North Korea Thursday, May 12, 2022. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Six people have died and 350,000 have been treated for a fever that has spread “explosively” across North Korea, state media said Friday, a day after the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time in the pandemic.

North Korea likely doesn’t have sufficient COVID-19 tests and said it didn’t know the cause of the mass fevers. But a big coronavirus outbreak could be devastating in a country with a broken health care system and an unvaccinated, malnourished population.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said of the 350,000 people who developed fevers since late April, 162,200 have recovered. It said 18,000 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone, and 187,800 are being isolated for treatment.

One of the six people who died was infected with the omicron variant, KCNA said. But it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the total illnesses were COVID-19.

North Korea imposed a lockdown Thursday after acknowledging its first COVID-19 cases. Those reports said tests from an unspecified number of people came back positive for the omicron variant.

It’s unusual for isolated North Korea to admit to the outbreak of any infectious disease, let alone one as menacing as COVID-19, as it’s intensely proud and sensitive to outside perception about its self-described “socialist utopia.”

While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had occasionally been candid about his worsening economy and other problems, he had repeatedly expressed confidence about pandemic response and wasn’t seen wearing a mask in public until Thursday.

State TV showed Kim wearing a mask as he entered what the broadcast described as the country’s headquarters of its pandemic response, which appeared to be Pyongyang’s landmark Koryo Hotel. He took off the mask and smoked a cigarette while talking with officials.

KCNA said Kim criticized officials for failing to prevent “a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system.” He said the outbreak was centered around the capital, Pyongyang, and stressed all work and residential units should be isolated from one another while residents should be provided every convenience during the lockdown.

“It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early date, restore the stability of epidemic prevention and protect the health and wellbeing of our people,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

The spread of the virus may have been accelerated by a massive military parade on April 25, where Kim gave a speech and showcased his army and weaponry in front of tens of thousands of people.

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said the pace of the fever’s spread suggests the crisis could last months and possibly into 2023, causing major disruption in the poorly equipped country.

According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, North Korea reported to the U.N. agency that it tested 64,207 people for COVID-19 in 2020 through March 22 this year, a small number that may indicate insufficient tests for a population of 26 million.

North Korea also lacks vaccines, COVID-19 antiviral pills and has likely very few intensive care units to treat serious cases, which may cause higher death rates than other nations, experts say.

The North last year shunned millions of shots offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, including doses of AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac vaccines, possibly because of questions about their effectiveness and unwillingness to accept monitoring requirements. The country lacks the extreme-cold storage systems that are required for mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, which have shown higher rates of preventing infection, serious illness and death even against newer variants like omicron.

The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office Tuesday, said his government is willing to provide medical supplies and hopes to talk to the North about specific plans. It said the North hasn’t yet asked for its help.

Cha Deok-cheol, a spokesperson in South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Seoul doesn’t immediately have an estimate on the number of vaccine doses it could offer to North Korea.

Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated over the past three years as larger nuclear negotiations remain stalled since they broke down over disagreements about U.S.-led sanctions and the North’s disarmament steps.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing was ready to offer North Korea help but said he had no information about any such request being made. Asked whether China would be evacuating its nationals from North Korea, Zhao said Beijing will closely monitor the situation and maintain communication with the North to ensure the health and safety of Chinese citizens there.

North Korea’s claim of a perfect record in keeping out the virus for 2 1/2 years was widely doubted. But its extremely strict border closure, large-scale quarantines and propaganda that stressed anti-virus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have staved off a huge outbreak until now.

Hours after confirming the outbreak, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea in an apparent display of strength. It was the North’s 16th round of missile launches this year as it aims to pressure the United States to accept the idea of the country as a nuclear power. It’s also eager to negotiate sanctions relief and other concessions from a position of strength.

There are also indications that North Korea is restoring tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017 in possible preparations to resume nuclear tests, which U.S. and South Korean officials say could happen as early as this month.

Citing North Korea’s shunning of the COVAX vaccines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States supported international aid efforts but doesn’t plan to share its vaccine supplies with the North.

“We do continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans, and this is, of course, a broader part of the DPRK continuing to exploit its own citizens by not accepting this type of aid,” Psaki said Thursday in Washington, using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“It’s not just vaccines. It’s also a range of humanitarian assistance that could very much help the people and the country and instead they divert resources to build their unlawful nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.”

___

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

___ This story corrects the name of a South Korean government spokesperson.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA's DART probe, foregroun...
Associated Press

NASA spacecraft closes in on asteroid for head-on collision

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft closed in on an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth. The galactic grand slam was set to occur at a harmless asteroid 7 million miles (9.6 million kilometers) away, with the spacecraft named Dart plowing […]
2 days ago
This image released by Fork Films shows a scene from the documentary "The American Dream and Other ...
Associated Press

A doc from the Disney family takes aim at the Mouse House

NEW YORK (AP) — Abigail E. Disney has been critical of the company that bears her name before. But for the first time, Disney, the granddaughter of co-founder Roy O. Disney, has put her views into the medium the Mouse House was built on: a movie. In the new documentary “The American Dream and Other […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Helicopter crashes in Arizona desert; no word on 2 aboard

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — A helicopter crashed Monday morning in a desert area near Phoenix but authorities said there was no immediate word on the condition of the two people aboard. Federal Aviation Administration officials said the Robinson R22 helicopter went down around 9:15 a.m. some 4 ½ miles (7.2 kilometers) north of the Falcon […]
2 days ago
This undated image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration shows the FDA's Center for Toba...
Associated Press

Insider Q&A: FDA official on vaping’s “promise or peril”

WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s been no honeymoon period for the Food and Drug Administration’s new tobacco chief, Brian King, the public health scientist now responsible for regulating the nation’s multibillion-dollar cigarette and vaping industry. The problems facing FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products have only multiplied since King’s arrival in July from the Centers for Disease […]
2 days ago
Chicago police respond to a shooting near the CPD Homan Square facility Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.  On...
Associated Press

1 shot, officer injured in Chicago police facility incident

CHICAGO (AP) — One person was shot and a Chicago police officer was wounded Monday during an incident inside a police facility on the city’s West Side, officials said. Shots were fired shortly before noon at the building in Homan Square, police spokesman Tom Ahern told WGN-TV. The officer was taken to Sinai Hospital in […]
2 days ago
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi speaks to reporters during a news conference in Athens on ...
Associated Press

Greece: EU using Med countries like a refugee ‘parking lot’

ATHENS (AP) — Greece on Monday urged the European Union to lift movement restrictions for refugees recognized by individual nations, accusing the bloc of applying a double standard when dealing with Ukrainians fleeing the war compared with the victims of other conflicts. Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s migration affairs minister, said a “lack of solidarity” was holding […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
N. Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting COVID-19 outbreak