May 15, 2022 -- North Korea reported 15 more COVID-19 deaths on Sunday, bringing the country’s death toll to 42, according to The Associated Press.

State media also reported another 296,180 infections, adding up to a total of 820,620 in recent weeks. After claiming no coronavirus cases for the entire pandemic, North Korea announced its first COVID-19 patients on Thursday.

Officials have said that a “fever” began spreading across the country in late April, the AP reported. Now the country is trying to mobilize more than a million health care workers and others to contain the outbreak.

At the same time, outside experts have expressed concerns about North Korea’s ability to handle the crisis without aid, particularly because the population is likely unvaccinated, and the public health care system lacks medical supplies, tests, and treatments.

“Without COVID-19 test kits, North Korea is resorting to body temperature checks to guess at infections. But with such a very inferior and inaccurate method of examination, it’s impossible to find asymptomatic virus carriers and control viral surges,” Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, told the AP.

“As North Korea’s (suspected) COVID-19 infections are explosively increasing, its death toll is expected to continue to rise,” Cheong said.

Since Thursday, North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to reduce the outbreak. Restrictions could further strain the country’s economy, which has faltered due to pandemic-related border closures and U.N. sanctions against its nuclear program.

On Saturday, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un called the outbreak a historically “great upheaval” and called for the government and people to work together to stabilize the country. More than 1.3 million people have been engaged in efforts to examine and treat sick people, the official Korean Central News Agency reported. Those with fevers and other abnormal symptoms are being placed in quarantine.

“All provinces, cities and counties of the country have been totally locked down, and working units, production units and residential units closed from each other since the morning of May 12,” KCNA said. “Strict and intensive examination of the people is being conducted.”

Among those with symptoms, 496,030 have recovered, and 324,550 are receiving treatment, KCNA reported. Kim said on Saturday that most transmissions are occurring within communities that are isolated from each other and not spreading between regions.

Most of the newly reported deaths were caused by overdoses of medication and other negligence due to a lack of medical expertise about the Omicron variant, North Korean health officials were quoted saying on Saturday, according to The New York Times. Kim also criticized health officials for “incompetence” and “irresponsibility.”

Korean Central Television broadcast treatment ideas on Saturday night, according to Reuters. A doctor suggested “gargling with salt water” and taking different medications for fevers, headaches, and muscle and joint pain. In addition, KCNA suggested drinking lonicera japonica tea or willow leaf tea three times a day.

China and South Korea have offered to send humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and vaccines, but North Korean officials haven’t responded publicly, the AP reported. North Korea previously declined vaccine doses from the global COVAX sharing program due to requirements for tracking distribution.

Show Sources

The Associated Press: “North Korea reports 15 more suspected COVID-19 deaths.”

Reuters: "N.Korea reports first COVID outbreak, orders lockdown in "gravest emergency." “North Korea reports more deaths, says taking ‘swift measures’ against COVID outbreak.”

The New York Times: “North Korea Says Its Covid Outbreak Is Spreading Fast.”

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