North Korea on Sunday reported 15 additional deaths from “fever” after the country recently announced its first-ever cases of Covid-19 and ordered nationwide lockdowns.
State media KCNA said a total of 42 people had died, with 820,620 cases and at least 324,550 under medical treatment.
Leader Kim Jong Un has said the outbreak has caused “great upheaval” in North Korea.
KCNA reported that “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.”
Despite activating its “maximum emergency quarantine system” to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population, North Korea is now reporting large numbers of new cases daily.
North Korea confirmed Thursday that the highly contagious Omicron variant had been detected in the capital Pyongyang, with Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns.
It was the government’s first official admission of Covid cases and marked the failure of a two-year coronavirus blockade maintained since the start of the pandemic.
“The spread of malignant disease comes to be a great upheaval in our country since the founding of the DPRK,” Kim said Saturday, referring to North Korea by its official name.
North Korea has a crumbling health system – one of the worst in the world – and no Covid vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass testing capacity.
It has previously turned down offers of Covid vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, but both Beijing and Seoul have issued fresh offers of aid and vaccines.
The KCNA report did not specify whether the new cases and deaths had tested positive for Covid-19, but experts say the country will be struggling to test and diagnose on this scale.
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test – which would be the regime’s seventh – and that it could come any day.
Analysts have warned Kim could speed up his nuclear test plans in a bid to distract North Korea’s population from a disastrous Covid-19 outbreak.