The number of North Koreans with Covid symptoms has surpassed 2 million, while the country has claimed it is achieving “good results” in its battle against the virus.
It reported 263,370 more people with fever symptoms and two more deaths on Thursday, taking the total caseload to 2.24 million, including 65 deaths, according to state news agency KCNA.
It did not report how many of those cases had tested positive for Covid.
The rising caseload and a lack of medical resources and vaccines has led the UN human rights agency to warn of “devastating” consequences for North Korea’s 25 million people, and World Health Organization officials worry an unchecked spread could give rise to deadlier new variants.
Cases of fever reported by the government had declined in Pyongyang but risen in rural provinces, and either through error or deliberate manipulation were unlikely to be fully accurate, said Martyn Williams, a researcher at the US-based observer 38 North. “I doubt they represent the exact picture,” he said on Twitter.
Kee Park, a global health specialist at Harvard medical school who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said earlier the number of new cases should start to slow as a result of strengthened preventive measures such as travel restrictions and keeping workers separated in groups according to their jobs.
But, Park said, North Korea will struggle to provide treatment for the already large number of people with Covid-19, adding that deaths could reach the tens of thousands.
Despite the caseload, the isolated country claimed that farming continued, factories were working and it was planning a state funeral for a former general.
“Even under the maximum emergency epidemic prevention situation, normal production is kept at key industrial sectors and large-scale construction projects are propelled without let-up,” KCNA said on Friday. “Good results are reported steadily in the ongoing anti-epidemic war.”
North Korea said on Wednesday the country’s virus outbreak was taking a “favourable turn”, although officials in South Korea say it is hard to draw a conclusion as it is unclear how North Korea is calculating the number of fever and Covid patients.
South Korea and the US have both offered to help North Korea fight the virus, including sending aid, but have not received a response, Seoul’s deputy national security adviser said on Wednesday.