SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Tuesday reported six additional deaths from “fever,” days after announcing its first Covid case, and said it was ramping up the military distribution of medicines.
State media KCNA reported that the army had “urgently deployed its powerful forces to all pharmacies in Pyongyang City and began to supply medicines”.
The outlet additionally said the country’s “death toll stands at 56” as of Monday evening, with more than 1,483,060 cases of fever and at least 663,910 people receiving medical treatment.
The toll comes despite leader Kim Jong Un ordering nationwide lockdowns in a bid to slow the spread of disease through the unvaccinated population.
Kim has so far strongly criticised healthcare officials for what he called a botched response to epidemic prevention — specifically a failure to keep pharmacies open 24/7 to distribute medicine.
The Tuesday report by KCNA said that “urgent measures have been taken to immediately rectify the deviations in the supply of medicines,” including 24-hour operation of pharmacies in Pyongyang.
Since the country announced its first Covid case last Thursday, Kim has put himself front and centre of North Korea’s disease response, overseeing near-daily emergency Politburo meetings on the outbreak, which he has said is causing “great upheaval” in the country.
KCNA reported Tuesday that efforts were underway to inform the masses about “the stealth Omicron variant to make them deeply understand the scientific treatment methods and epidemic prevention rules.” Some 11,000 officials, teachers and medical training students had meanwhile on Monday participated in “intensive medical examination of all inhabitants” to search out those with fever, KCNA said.
North Korea has one of the world’s worst healthcare systems, with poorly-equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no Covid-19 treatment drugs or mass testing ability, experts say.