North Korea said Saturday that nearly 220,000 additional people have feverish, COVID-like symptoms around the country, marking its fifth consecutive daily increase over 200,000 likely cases, AP reports.
Why it matters: North Korea has an extremely low vaccination rate against COVID-19, limited health facilities and was already struggling to feed its population before the virus started to spread in late April.
The country has so far reported 2.4 million likely coronavirus infections and at least 66 deaths from the virus.
- The full extent of the country’s outbreak is unknown, as experts believe it may be fabricating figures or unable to significantly diagnose a large portion of cases because it lacks testing supplies.
- President Biden, while in Seoul on Saturday meeting South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, again offered to send vaccines directly to North Korea or through China to help the country with the massive outbreak.
The big picture: Health experts have long questioned whether North Korea had been unaffected by the virus, despite its strict pandemic border closure at the start of pandemic.
- It did not officially confirm a positive coronavirus case until May 11. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un then declared a “severe emergency incident” and launched a nationwide lockdown.
- Despite Kim’s emergency declaration, he has not accepted aid proposals from foreign governments or international organizations, including vaccines offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.
- Experts fear that the strict national lockdown combined with North Korea’s preexisting food insecurity and its unwillingness to accept foreign aid could lead to extremely high levels of civilian suffering.