One dead, hundreds of thousands infected in North Korea

One dead, hundreds of thousands infected in North Korea

SEOUL Reuters - At least one person confirmed to have COVID 19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media said on Friday, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of the country's first confirmed outbreak of the disease.

About 187,800 people are being treated in isolation after a fever of unknown origin has been reported in the country since late April, according to the official KCNA news agency.

More than 350,000 people have been affected by the flu, including 18,000 who have reported symptoms on Thursday, according to KCNA. About 162,200 have been treated, but it did not specify how many had tested positive for COVID - 19.

At least six people who had died of the disease, with one of those cases being confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the anti-virus command centre on Thursday to check the situation and respond to the situation after declaring a grave state of emergency and ordering a national lock-down on Thursday.

North Korea 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 hosted several large public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.

Kim criticised the simultaneous spread of the disease with the capital area as a center shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established, KCNA said.

Kim said that isolating and treating people with fevers was a top priority, while calling for scientific treatment methods and tactics at a lightning tempo and bolstering measures to supply medication.

In another dispatch, KCNA said health authorities were trying to organize testing and treatment systems and bolster disinfection work.

The rapid spread of the disease 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 shut.

Analysts said the outbreak could threaten to deepen the country's already tough food situation this year, as the lockdown would hamper its fight against drought and mobilization of labor.

North Korea had declined vaccine supplies from the COVAX global sharing program and China, possibly leaving the vast majority of people in a relatively young society at higher risk of infection.

Kwon Young-se, South Korea's new nominee to be the UN - Minister for Inter-Korean ties, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he was willing to push for humanitarian assistance for the North, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical supplies.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said it didn't plan to send vaccine to North Korea but supported international efforts to give aid to vulnerable people there, urging Pyongyang to facilitate that work.