The World Health Organization lamented on Wednesday that it did not have access to data on North Korea’s Covid-19 outbreak, but assumed the crisis was worsening, contrary to reports from Pyongyang on “progress”.
North Korea, which announced its first-ever coronavirus cases on May 12, said last week its Covid outbreak had been brought under control, with state media reporting a drop in the number of cases.
But WHO emergency director Michael Ryan questioned that claim.
“We assume the situation is getting worse, not better,” he told reporters, acknowledging, however, that the secretive totalitarian state had provided only very limited information.
“At the moment, we are not in a position to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” he said, stressing that “it is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we do not have access to the necessary data.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s official on Covid-19, meanwhile said the country had recorded more than three million suspected Covid cases, although official accounts only mention “fever” cases.
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The state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday morning reported some 96,600 “fever cases” in 24 hours, for a total of 3.8 million cases since late April. No new deaths have been announced, with 69 fatalities at the end of last week.
It is the third consecutive daily tally of less than 100,000, down from a peak of 390,000 daily cases in mid-May, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Despite having one of the worst health systems in the world, KCNA reported Thursday that more than 95% of cases have recovered.
“There are many recoveries that have been reported, but the information we currently have about the country is limited,” Van Kerkhove said.
North Korea has also rejected injections offered by the WHO and has not vaccinated any of its roughly 25 million people.
Ryan stressed the importance of curbing the epidemic in the impoverished country.
“We have offered help several times. We have offered vaccines three times. We continue to offer,” he said.
He said the UN health agency was working with China and South Korea to get help, hailing “a very positive attitude in trying to solve this collective problem”.
The WHO has repeatedly warned against allowing the virus that causes Covid-19 to spread unchecked, among other things, because it is then more likely to mutate and produce new, potentially more dangerous variants.
“We don’t want to see intense transmission of this disease in a mostly susceptible population, in an already weakened healthcare system,” Ryan said.
“It’s not good for the people (of North Korea). It’s not good for the region. It’s not good for the world.”
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