North Korea reports 18,820 more fever cases amid COVID outbreak

Declining case numbers comes as experts have expressed doubt the N Korea has been able to bring outbreak under control.

An employee in hazmat suit disinfects a food shop in Pyongyang, North Korea.
North Korea has reported 18,820 new "fever" cases amid its first official COVID-19 outbreak [File: Jon Chol Jin/AP]

North Korea recorded 18,820 more cases of fever and no new deaths amid its first official COVID-19 outbreak, state media said on Monday, as authorities continue to insist infections in the impoverished country are being brought under control.

The country has reported more than 4.6 million cases of fever during its first official outbreak, but authorities have not revealed how many of those patients tested positive for the coronavirus. Authorities on Friday reported more than 23,100 cases of fever, marking the third consecutive day reported infections stayed below 30,000.

Before acknowledging the outbreak in mid-May, Pyongyang had claimed to be free of COVID-19, a record doubted by many observers due to the coronavirus’ acute transmissibility and the country’s vast land border with China.

The secretive regime, ruled by third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un, has refused outside help, including vaccinations, despite widespread malnutrition and a dilapidated healthcare system.

The World Health Organization has expressed scepticism about North Korea’s claim that the outbreak is waning, warning that cases are underreported and the situation could be deteriorating. Officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the country has reported just 73 deaths so far, well below what would be expected for an outbreak involving millions of infections.

It also reported last week an outbreak of an unidentified gastrointestinal disease, suspected to be cholera or typhoid, in the country’s southwest.

Tim Peters, the founder of Seoul-based aid organisation Helping Hands Korea Seoul, said it is likely North Korea is underplaying the extent of the crisis in the country.

“What else but COVID could the sudden 4.6 million fevers since the DPRK’s mid-May admission of COVID cases be? Authorities there have every reason to be gravely concerned that its rickety medical system will suffer a tsunami of cases and be overwhelmed,” Peters told Al Jazeera.

“We at HHK have been struggling mightily since early this year to deliver medicines to the North, but officials there insist on shooting themselves in the foot by stonewalling any crucially needed deliveries. More proof, if any more is needed, that the health and welfare of the rank and file in North Korea are nowhere near a major priority, as tragic as that truth is.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies