North Korea's Kim says C-19 'great turmoil', 21 new deaths reported
SEOUL, May 14: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Saturday that the spread of COVID-19 had thrust his country into "great turmoil" and called for an all-out battle to overcome the outbreak, while 21 new daily deaths were reported among people with fever.
North Korea made an unprecedented admission of its first COVID-19 outbreak this week and imposed a nationwide lockdown, after reporting no cases since the start of the pandemic two years ago. But there was no sign a rigorous testing or treatment campaign was under way.
"The spread of the malignant epidemic is a great turmoil to fall on our country since the founding," state news agency KCNA quoted Kim as telling an emergency meeting of the country's ruling Workers' Party.
"But if we don't lose focus in implementing epidemic policy and maintain strong organization power and control based on single-minded unity of the party and the people and strengthen our epidemic battle, we can more than overcome the crisis."
Given North Korea's limited testing capabilities, the numbers probably represent a fraction of total cases and could lead to thousands of deaths in one of only two countries without a vaccination campaign, experts have said.
The outbreak could also deepen an already dire food situation in the country, with the lockdown hampering anti-drought efforts and mobilization of labor.
The Workers' Party meeting heard reports of about 280,810 people being treated and 27 deaths since a fever of unidentified origins was reported starting in late April, KCNA said.
State media did not say whether the new deaths were due to COVID-19. KCNA said on Friday that one death had been confirmed to be due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The meeting also heard a report from epidemic control officials that "in most cases, human casualties were caused by negligence including drug overdose due to lack of knowledge of treatment methods," KCNA said.
Since late April, 524,440 people have shown signs of fever including 174,440 new cases on Friday, KCNA said. About 243,630 have been treated but KCNA has not said how many people have been tested nor confirmed the total number of COVID-19 cases.
North Korea has been testing about 1,400 people a week, according to Harvard Medical School's Kee Park who has worked on health care projects in the country, not nearly enough to survey the hundreds of thousands of people with symptoms.