- North Korea appears to have an explosive Covid-19 crisis on its hands.
- Over the past month, the country reported 1.4 million cases of what it's calling a "fever."
- On Tuesday, an additional 270,000 cases were reported.
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North Korean health officials on Tuesday reported an additional 270,000 cases of "fever" — believed to be Covid-19 — in the country, the Associated Press reported.
According to state media outlet Korean Central News Agency, the country had on Monday reported 1.4 million cases of "fever" and 56 deaths from it since late April.
It has yet to refer to this "fever" outbreak as Covid-19, and poor testing capabilities throughout the country have greatly hindered its ability to diagnose cases, the BBC reported.
North Korea locked down in May 2020 and claimed it managed to avoid any exposure to the coronavirus by shutting its borders and employing a Covid-zero pandemic approach. Experts have expressed doubt about its official Covid-19 statistics.
Then last Thursday, the Hermit Kingdom announced its first coronavirus case of the Omicron variant in the capital city of Pyongyang.
Since then, case numbers — and deaths — have continued to climb.
The outbreak is believed to have begun at a military parade held on April 25. Following the parade, several members of the military began exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.
"They had high fevers and acute respiratory symptoms ... and after testing by the health authorities, it was confirmed that they were infected with the Omicron variant," an unnamed border security official told Radio Free Asia.
In response to the widespread outbreak, the country of 25 million mobilised nearly a million public health workers to contain infections and started quarantining citizens infected with the "fever," the AP reported.
But many fear the country's flawed healthcare system, limited testing capabilities, and lack of vaccine program — the country is one of only two in the world, alongside Eritrea, to turn down global vaccine-sharing programs — have unwittingly created the perfect conditions for a coronavirus outbreak to thrive.
Without a full-scale lockdown, a large portion of the population could soon be infected, John P. Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University, told The Washington Post.
"The carnage could be awful," he said. "To the extent that it might affect the regime's hold over the population."
J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Post that North Korea's poor virus control could breed new and more resistant subvariants of Omicron.
"North Korea, with a huge immunity gap — no protection acquired with vaccines or prior infections — is an open field for uncontrolled transmission, which maximises the odds of new variants," he said.