North Korea reports first COVID deaths, explosive outbreak spread

News reports, citing North Korea's state media, said the country has reported six COVID-19 deaths, including at least one linked to the Omicron variant, amid explosive spread that has led to about 350,000 people being treated for fevers.

Yesterday, 18,000 more people with fever symptoms were reported, with 187,800 under isolation, according to the Associated Press (AP).

It's not clear how many cases are COVID-19, due to lack of information on North Korea's testing capacity. Global health officials are concerned about the country's widening health crisis, due to a lack of vaccines and treatments, alongside a weak medical infrastructure.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un was seen wearing a mask for the first time yesterday. He criticized officials for failing to prevent the disease and said the outbreak is centered around Pyongyang. The country held a large military parade in the city on Apr 25.

It's unclear if North Korea has experienced earlier COVID-19 activity. Last June, Kim Jong Un lashed out at party officials for failing to implement measures to battle the threat, though the country had earlier imposed border closures and travel curbs.

North Korea did not accept its allotted COVAX vaccine from the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners, and in October, the head of the WHO said North Korea was among three countries that hadn't started vaccinating yet.

South Korea and China have both offered assistance, but North Korea apparently hasn't asked for help, according to the AP story.

In other global developments:

  • US cases continue to rise slowly, with 102,513 cases reported yesterday, along with 128 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker. The level is the highest since February, when the country's Omicron surge was declining.

  • Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said yesterday that sequencing of samples from recently identified imported cases revealed the BA.4 subvariant in a traveler from South Africa and BA.2.12.1 in a traveler from the United States.

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