Pyongyang says six people died, one with confirmed Covid and nearly 190,000 are under quarantine following an "explosive" spread of fever across the East Asian nation, a day after declaring Covid outbreak in a largely unvaccinated population.
North Korea has said that six people who were sick with fever have died, with one of them testing positive for Covid-19, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
"A fever whose cause couldn't be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April ... Six persons died (one of them tested positive for the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron)," KCNA said on Friday.
Offering the first statistics, a day after the country confirmed its first outbreak since the pandemic began, the KCNA news agency said 187,800 people are currently being treated in isolation.
It said 350,000 people have shown symptoms of fever and 162,200 of them have been treated so far.
Meanwhile, the country's leader Kim Jong-un visited an anti-Covid command centre amid the outbreak, KCNA reported.
On Thursday, North Korea detected an outbreak of a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron version of the coronavirus, known as BA.2. It imposed nationwide lockdowns after confirming its first-ever case of Covid-19.
Kim "called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas," the official KCNA news agency said.
Factories, businesses and homes should be closed down and reorganised "to flawlessly and perfectly block the spread vacuum of the malicious virus," it added.
Meanwhile, the US says it has no plans now to share Covid-19 vaccines with North Korea.
Strict virus controls
North Korea's previous coronavirus-free claim had been disputed by many foreign experts. But South Korean officials have said North Korea had likely avoided a huge outbreak, in part because it instituted strict virus controls almost from the start of the pandemic.
Early in 2020 — before the coronavirus spread around the world — North Korea took severe steps to keep out the virus and described them as a matter of "national existence". It quarantined people with symptoms resembling Covid-19 and all but halted cross-border traffic and trade for two years and is even believed to have ordered troops to shoot on sight any trespassers who crossed its borders.
The extreme border closures further shocked an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programme, pushing Kim to perhaps the toughest moment of his rule since he took power in 2011.
North Korea in January tentatively reopened railroad freight traffic between its border town of Sinuiju and China's Dandong, but China announced a halt to the trade last month as it deals with the spread of Covid-19 in Dandong.
It's unusual for North Korea to admit the outbreak of any infectious disease though Kim has occasionally been candid about national and social problems and policy failures.
During a flu pandemic in 2009 when the country was ruled by his father, Kim Jong-il, North Korea said that nine people in Pyongyang and the northwestern border town of Sinuiju had contracted the flu. Some outside experts said at the time the admission was aimed at winning outside aid.
Experts say Kim still hasn't publicly asked for any aid including Covid-19 vaccines from the United States and South Korea amid the prolonged stalemate in nuclear diplomacy.