San Francisco Chronicle

Death toll, rate of infections rise


North Korea has confirmed 15 more deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional patients with fevers as it mobilizes more than a million health and other workers to try to suppress the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported Sunday.

After maintainin­g a widely disputed claim that it’s been coronaviru­s-free for more than two years, North Korea announced Thursday that it had found its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

It said a fever has spread across the country “explosivel­y” since late April but hasn’t disclosed exactly how many COVID-19 cases were found. Some experts say North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test a large number of suspected COVID-19 patients.

The additional deaths reported Sunday took the country’s reported fever-related fatalities to 42. The official Korean Central News Agency also reported that another 296,180 people with fevers had been tallied, taking the reported total to 820,620.

The outbreak has triggered concern about a humanitari­an crisis in North Korea because most of the country’s 26 million people are believed to be unvaccinat­ed against the coronaviru­s and its public health care system has been in shambles for decades. Some experts say North Korea might suffer huge fatalities if it doesn’t immediatel­y receive outside shipments of vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies.

Since Thursday, North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to fight the virus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday the United States supported internatio­nal aid efforts but doesn’t plan to share its vaccine supplies with the North. The North Korean virus outbreak could still be a major topic of discussion when President Bien visits Seoul later this week for a summit with newly inaugurate­d South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

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