North Korea says 6 deaths as Covid-19 spreads at an “explosive” rate.

SEOUL – The coronavirus has spread across North Korea “at an explosive rate” since late last month, killing six people and leaving 187,800 in quarantine, the country’s state media reported on Friday.

The country’s health officials made the rare admission of an emerging public health crisis as its leader, Kim Jong-un, was visiting the National Disease Control Headquarters on Thursday, the official Korean Central News Agency said. of the North.

As a sign of growing urgency, state central television first showed Mr. Kim wearing a mask at a Workers’ Party meeting.

The fact that the virus was spreading across the country meant that North Korea had “loopholes in its epidemiological system,” Kim allegedly said.

North Korea said it learned its first outbreak after health officials on Sunday tested people at an unidentified organization in Pyongyang, the capital, who showed symptoms such as fever. It was confirmed that they were infected with the BA.2 sub-variant of the virus, she said.

The country has declared a “maximum emergency” and ordered all cities and counties in the nation’s 25 million nation to shut down to combat the spread.

North Korea’s admission of an outbreak was a sharp change for the secret country, which had long insisted that there were no cases of the virus that first emerged in neighboring China more than two years ago. Outside experts had been skeptical, however, citing the lack of extensive Covid testing and the North’s worn public health system.

Mr. Kim said 350,000 people have been found with fever since the end of April, including 18,000 on Thursday. He added that 162,200 people have been successfully treated. Reports on the outbreak have so far been vague, without clarifying, for example, how many of the 350,000 people found with the fever tested positive for the virus.

“Like any other data from North Korea, the figures are in question and we cannot fully trust them,” said Ahn Kyung-su, who manages the Seoul office. DPRKHealth.org, a website and a network of public health experts studying North Korea. “But what is clear is that North Korea has the Covid phenomenon and, by publicizing these figures, North Korea seems to be sending signals that it is finally ready to accept Covid-related aid from the outside.”

So far, North Korea has not accepted any humanitarian aid related to the pandemic, including vaccine donations from world health organizations. South Korean officials hope that humanitarian shipments, including Covid-19 vaccines, can help restart diplomatic dialogue between North Korea, the United States and allies.

The danger posed by the Covid epidemic is greater in North Korea than in most other nations because most of its population is not vaccinated. Outside health experts have long questioned the North’s ability to fight a large-scale epidemic, although its regime is capable of imposing strict controls on the movement of residents.

The epidemic, if not controlled quickly, could increase the tension on the country’s economy, which has already been hit hard years of UN sanctions and the decision two years ago to close the border with China, its only major trading partner, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Hours after admitting the outbreak on Thursday, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles from near Pyongyang into the sea off its east coast, the South Korean military said. It was the North’s sixteenth missile test this year and an indication that it was moving forward with weapons testing despite the threat from the virus.