State media KCNA still speaks of “fever” yet the surge, deaths and cases, resemble well-known markers of Covid-19. More than twenty dead this Friday, May 13, 2022, two days after the official announcement of the very first case of coronavirus. Some 174,440 new cases of fever were recorded on Friday, the official agency said [compared to 18,000 on Thursday]. “The total number of sick people in the country is 524,440, of which 234,630 are fully cured […] and the death toll so far is 27,” KCNA detailed.

According to several experts, these figures could underestimate the extent of the spread of the virus, the country not having the capacity to massively test its population. On Thursday, the reclusive country reported its first cases of coronavirus, saying it was moving to “maximum emergency epidemic prevention” [which involves containment measures], after people tested positive for the sub- Omicron BA.2 variant. He also announced his first death.

The official press declared that these first deaths were “due to negligence, including overdose of drugs, due to ignorance of scientific treatment methods”.

North Korea, which was one of the first countries in the world to close its borders in January 2020 after the virus emerged in neighboring China, has long boasted of its ability to keep the virus at bay. It had not previously reported any confirmed cases of Covid-19 to the WHO.

A weak health system

Leader Kim Jong-un appeared on television for the first time wearing a mask, after chairing an emergency politburo meeting on the epidemic situation on Thursday. He then ordered containment measures to try to stem the spread of the virus. “This is the most important challenge and the most important task facing our party to quickly reverse this health crisis situation,” he said according to the state agency.

At a meeting on Saturday, the North Korean leader pledged “rapid distribution of emergency medicine” and said he would introduce “treatment methods for patients, including those with special constitutions,” KCNA reported. . Kim Jong-un said he was “convinced” that he could “defeat this malicious infectious disease in the shortest possible time”, the report added.

But the country’s health system [one of the worst in the world] is in shambles and lacks essential drugs and equipment, experts warn. Mr. Kim announced that he would adopt the Chinese model of fighting the coronavirus. “We should learn from the successful experiences and achievements of the Chinese Communist Party and its people in preventing the virus,” he said.

Another daunting challenge for North Korea is that none of the 25 million population is vaccinated against the coronavirus, as Pyongyang has rejected vaccination offers from the WHO, China and Russia.