NORTH Korea has been plunged into a health crisis after an ‘explosive Covid outbreak’ gripped the rogue nation, killing six and throwing 188k into isolation.
At least one person is confirmed to have died from the Omicron variant and another 18,000 battling “fever symptoms” after the country reported its first ever Covid case on Friday.
In a rare admission, state-controlled news agency KCNA confirmed that 187,000 people had been thrown into isolation and are being treated for “fever” that “explosively spread nationwide” in late April.
“A fever whose cause couldn’t be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April… Six persons died (one of them tested positive for the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron,)” it said.
Around 350,000 people have shown signs of illness, including 18,000 who newly reported symptoms on Tuesday alone, KCNA said.
It comes after a day Kim Jong-un admitted Covid had infiltrated North Korea before plunging the country into a strict lockdown.
It is believed to be the first time he has ever been pictured donning a face covering – nearly two and a half years into the pandemic.
The outbreak has been dubbed the “gravest national emergency” by officials after infections were recorded in the capital Pyongyang.
Despite the stunning admission by Pyongyang, experts fear the real number of cases could be far higher.
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Harvard Medical School’s Kee Park, who worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the country had been testing 1,400 people each week, which he said is nowhere near enough to survey the 350,000 showing “fever” symptoms.
“What is more worrisome is the sheer number of symptomatic people,” he added.
“Using a conservative case fatality rate of 1 percent and assuming the surge is due to an Omicron variant of COVID-19, North Korea can expect 3,500 deaths from this outbreak.”
Samples taken from people experiencing fevers found they were positive for a sub-variant of the Omicron strain, also known as BA.2.
But the exact number of cases or potential sources of infection have not been disclosed by authorities.
No North Koreans are known to be vaccinated in the country after the country declined jabs and instead shut its borders.
Concerned Kim Jong-un tabled a meeting on Thursday of the ruling Workers’ Party’s no-nonsense politburo, ordering a “strict lockdown”.
He said emergency reserve medical supplies have been mobilised as officials scramble to keep a lid on the number of infections.
State media said WPK officials “admitted” there had been a “breach” in North Korea’s defence strategy that has been in place since 2020.
News agency KNCA said: “The state’s most serious emergency has occurred.
“A break was made on our emergency epidemic prevention front that had been firmly defended until now.”
Reports from Pyongyang suggest the city is facing shortages as people begin panic buying amid fears of a lengthy lockdown.
The worrying display of Kim wearing a disposable face mask is thought to have alarmed North Koreans further.
In past footage of similar government meetings and other events, every official except the Supreme Leader has worn a face covering.
The politburo criticised the country’s anti-epidemic sector’s “carelessness, laxity, irresponsibility, and incompetence”.
They accused the experts of “failing” to promptly respond to an increased risk of infections and variants across the globe.
The cases in Pyongyang mark the first official Covid outbreak in North Korea since its borders were shut in early 2020.
The nation has never before formally confirmed infections.
Kim has enforced strict quarantine measures since the pandemic began in a bid to keep North Korea Covid-free.
Goods from China were subject to a month-long disinfection and quarantine process before all trade was suspended in April after a surge in cases.
The World Health Organisation said it has offered North Korea the opportunity to receive vaccines and to help put in place a deployment plan for jabs.
Their latest data showed 64,207 of the country’s 25 million people have received COVID-19 testing and all tested negative as of March 31.
The Omicron outbreak follows a significant spike in cases in South Korea throughout February and April this year.