North Korea on Saturday reported more than 200,000 new patients with fevers for the fifth consecutive day, as it battled the first outbreak of the coronavirus.
The ongoing COVID wave, announced last week, has raised concerns about a shortage of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million people, which has refused outside help and kept its borders closed.
At least 219,030 people showed symptoms of fever as of Friday evening, bringing the total number of such cases to 2,460,640, the official Korean Central News Agency reported, citing data from the state’s emergency epidemic prevention headquarters. The death toll rose by one to 66.
The Korean Central News Agency did not say how many people have tested positive for the virus.
In a separate report, the Korean Central News Agency said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting of the powerful political bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party early Saturday to check the status of the coronavirus and the responses made over the nine days since the outbreak emerged.
Kim praised “positive progress” in the anti-virus campaign, but called for policy to be constantly adjusted and improved “to seize the chance of winning the battle against the epidemic.”
The Korean Central News Agency did not elaborate on where Kim saw progress, but state media praised “good results” in fighting the coronavirus in the country, citing sustainable agriculture and production in key industrial sectors and construction projects.
In the absence of a national vaccination campaign and limited testing capacity, the daily data from state media may go unreported, and it may be difficult to assess the scale of the COVID wave, experts said.
The United Nations human rights agency has warned of “devastating” consequences for North Korea’s 25 million people, while the World Health Organization said the unchecked spread could lead to new, more deadly variants emerging.