According to the Associated Press, North Korea said Saturday that nearly 220,000 more people have feverish, COVID-like symptoms across the country, marking the country’s fifth consecutive daily increase over 200,000 likely cases.
North Korea had an extremely low COVID-19 vaccination rate, limited health facilities, and was already struggling to feed its population before the virus spread in late April.
So far, the country has reported 2.4 million likely coronavirus infections and at least 66 deaths caused by the virus.
The full scope of the country’s outbreak is unknown, as experts believe it is exaggerating figures or is unable to accurately diagnose a large portion of cases due to a lack of testing supplies.
While meeting with South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, in Seoul on Saturday, President Biden offered to send vaccines directly to North Korea or through China to help the country deal with the massive outbreak.
The overall picture: Health experts have long questioned whether North Korea was immune to the virus, despite its strict pandemic border closure at the outbreak’s start.
It took until May 11 to officially confirm a coronavirus case. Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, then declared a “severe emergency incident” and ordered a nationwide lockdown.
Despite Kim’s declaration of an emergency, he has refused to accept aid proposals from foreign governments or international organisations, including vaccines offered by the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.
Experts are concerned that the strict national lockdown, combined with North Korea’s pre-existing food insecurity and refusal to accept foreign aid, will result in extremely high levels of civilian suffering.