North Korea on Friday reported its first Covid-19 death a day after first acknowledging an outbreak of the virus.
State news agency KCNA reported six deaths from a wave of fast-spreading fever, one of whom had tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The agency reported that, starting in April, more than 350,000 people presented with a fever “in a short span of time,” adding that at least 162,200 of them had since “healed completely.”
The agency said the cause of the fever “couldn’t be identified” and said it “explosively spread nationwide.”
It was not clear how many people had actually been infected with the coronavirus.
Observers say the numbers indicate the potential scale of the country’s virus outbreak. Experts have long warned North Korea would have difficulty coping with a major outbreak because of the inadequacies of its health system.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide lockdown on Thursday, with all cities to be sealed off. It was unclear how members of the public would obtain essential goods while ordered to stay home.
Large parts of the population of nearly 26 million people are undernourished, according to the UN.
Kim had visited the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters to learn about the nationwide spread of Covid-19 after the ruling Workers’ Party switched the pandemic emergency level to maximum, KCNA reported.
He criticized vulnerabilities in the existing epidemic prevention system, saying all work and production sites as well as residential units must be isolated from each other.
Pyongyang reported its first official coronavirus infections on Thursday, but did not divulge the caseload.
On Friday, KCNA reported that 18,000 people recorded a fever on Thursday alone and up to 187,800 people were in isolation and receiving treatment.
The isolated authoritarian country had not registered a single coronavirus infection to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva before Thursday.
North Korea’s leadership closed the country’s borders early in the pandemic, which severely affected trade with China.
In January, China confirmed the resumption of cargo traffic between the two countries, but in late April, cross-border iron goods traffic was suspended again after new cases of infection in the Chinese border city of Dandong.