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North Korea announces ‘explosive’ outbreak of Covid, confirming six deaths and 350,000 potential cases


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wears a face mask on state television. Photo: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wears a face mask on state television. Photo: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wears a face mask on state television. Photo: AP

North Korea announced an “explosive” Covid outbreak on Thursday, with six dead and 350,000 potential cases across the country since April.

It offered a glimpse into just how quickly the virus could spread in a country yet to immunise its population.

Just one day after the country admitted that Covid had finally reached it, state media outlets called the outbreak a “public health crisis”, though its extent remains unclear.

North Korea’s low immunity to the virus and poor healthcare infrastructure have raised concerns among experts that it could become an epicentre for new variants.

The announcement underscores its vulnerability to the highly contagious BA.2 Omicron subvariant, which was responsible for sharp surges of the virus in South Korea, the US and elsewhere.

Leader Kim Jong Un, who ordered a nationwide lockdown after the announcement of the first official coronavirus case on Thursday, was quoted by KCNA as saying the spreading infections were a “grave sign of lapses in our anti-epidemic system”. The authoritarian leader appeared in public wearing a mask for the first time on Thursday.

For more than two years, as Covid raged around the world, North Korea had maintained that it was free from infections. But experts say the virus was probably spreading in the country well before Thursday’s official announcement.

North Korea’s “zero Covid” policy included stringent quarantine measures and a closed border over the past two years, which resulted in health and food crises.

It dramatically cut land-based trade on its border with China, its biggest trading partner, restricting the availability of food, supplies and cash.

Pyongyang also has repeatedly rebuffed Seoul’s offers of help. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol yesterday announced new plans to provide vaccine and medical aid to North Korea, his spokeswoman Kang In-sun said.

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China said  on Thursday it is prepared to “go all out to provide support and assistance”, though it is unclear whether North Korea would accept aid along the border because of its fears of the virus transmitting through shipments from China.

© Washington Post

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