The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday that more than 350,000 people had been treated for the fever, which had spread “explosively” across the country since the end of April, and that 162,200 of them had been rescued. It said 18,000 people had new fever symptoms on Thursday alone.
KCNA said the cause of the fever could not be ascertained, but it was not immediately clear how many cases contained COVID-19.
According to KCNA, one of the six dead has been confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant. Currently, it says 187,800 people in North Korea are being isolated for treatment.
North Korea on Thursday imposed a nationwide lockdown to control its first recognized COVID-19 outbreak, after more than two years of maintaining highly suspicious claims that it has completely repelled the virus, which has spread to almost every part of the world.
According to state media, tests of virus samples collected on Sunday from an undisclosed number of people with fever in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed that they had been infected with the Omicron variant. The number of cases was not mentioned in the report.
Experts say failure to slow down coronavirus infections could have serious consequences because the country has a poor healthcare system and its 26 million people are considered largely unvaccinated.
KCNA said Kim was briefed about the fever during a visit to his state’s emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on Thursday and criticized officials for failing to prevent “a weak point in the epidemic.”
He said the spread of the fever was concentrated in and around the capital, Pyongyang, and stressed the importance of providing all facilities to residents to prevent the spread of “contagious viruses”, as well as isolating all work, production and residential units.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying, “The most important challenge and the highest task facing our party is to bring the immediate public health crisis situation back to an early date, restore the stability of epidemic resistance and protect the health and well-being of our people.”
Describing its anti-coronavirus campaign as a matter of “national existence”, North Korea has strictly restricted cross-border vehicles and trade for the past two years and is even believed to have ordered the firing on any intruder crossing the border.
Border closures have already hurt the economy, damaged by decades of mismanagement and US-led sanctions on its nuclear weapons and missile programs, pushing Kim into perhaps the most difficult moment of his rule since taking office in 2011.
North Korea temporarily reopened rail freight vehicles between its border town of Xinhuiju and China’s Dandong in January, but China announced last month that it would suspend trade as it dealt with the spread of COVID-19 in its border areas.
Hours after North Korea confirmed the outbreak on Thursday, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, with South Korea and Japan saying leader Kim Jong Un may have shown strength after publicly acknowledging the outbreak.
It was the North’s 16th round of missile launches this year as it pushed the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and to force it to negotiate sanctions and other concessions.