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North Korea reports first COVID-19 death

May 14, 2022

North Korean media has reported the deaths of more than 20 people with a "fever" days after officials confirmed the country's first COVID-19 infection. More than 280,000 people are said to be isolated for treatment.

Kim Jong Un wearing a mask
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared a state of emergency as a COVID outbreak spreadsImage: KRT/AP Photo/picture alliance

North Korea's KCNA state media on Saturday issued an update amid a coronavirus outbreak that 21 people had died of "fever" and a total of more than 280,000 people were receiving treatment. A further 174,440 new cases of the fever were discovered on Friday, the report said. 

The report did not identify how many of the fever cases and deaths were confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

On Friday, KCNA had reported the deaths of six people who had been sick with a fever, one of whom had tested positive for COVID-19.

"A fever whose cause couldn't be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April ... Six persons died," it said.

On Friday, state media reported 187,800 people were being isolated for treatment. 

North Korea under nationwide lockdown

On Friday, state media reported that the country's leader Kim Jong Un, visited the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters and "learned about the nationwide spread of COVID-19."

"It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our Party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early date," KCNA stated.

In Saturday's update, KCNA quoted Kim calling the outbreak a "great disaster" that would be "overcome."

The reports comes only days after North Korea acknowledged a COVID outbreak officially for the first time since the pandemic began. The country has been placed under a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.

Before confirmation of the outbreak, Pyongyang had maintained that it had managed to stave off the global pandemic, a claim that was widely doubted.

Experts believe the country's health care system will struggle to deal with a major outbreak, with the added challenge that its population of 25 million people has not been vaccinated.

North Korea lacks vaccines 

North Korea has declined shipments of vaccines from the COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing program and the Sinovac Biotech vaccine from China.

An unnamed spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said on Thursday that there weren't any current plans in Washington to provide vaccines to North Korea. 

"While the US does not currently have plans to share vaccines with the DPRK, we continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans," the spokesperson said.

kb/wmr (AFP,Reuters)

Editor's note: This article has been updated from an older version with new figures released by North Korean media on Saturday