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North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID outbreak

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea announced 21 new “fever” deaths yesterday and said more than half a million people had been sickened nationwide, two days after confirming its first cases of Covid-19.

Despite activating its “maximum emergency quarantine system” to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population, North Korea is now reporting tens of thousands of new cases daily.

On Friday alone, “over 174,440 persons had fever, at least 81,430 were fully recovered and 21 died in the country”, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)reported.

North Korea confirmed on Thursday that the highly contagious Omicron variant had been detected in the capital Pyongyang, with leader Kim Jong Un ordering nationwide lockdowns.

It was the North’s first official admission of Covid cases and marked the failure of a two-year coronavirus blockade maintained at great economic cost since the start of the pandemic.

Temperature checks at a school in Pyongyang. PHOTO: AP

From late April to May 13, more than 524,440 people have fallen sick with fever, KCNA said, with 27 deaths in total.

The report did not specify whether the new cases and deaths had tested positive for Covid-19, but experts say the country will be struggling to test and diagnose on this scale.

North Korea has said only that one of the first six deaths it announced on Friday had tested positive for Covid-19.

“It’s not a stretch to consider these ‘fever’ cases to all be Covid-19, given the North’s lack of testing capacity,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute.

“The actual number of Covid cases could be higher than the fever figures due to many asymptomatic cases,” he said, adding that the pace of infection was growing “very fast”.

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