COVID has reached North Korea, threatening a humanitarian emergency

Michael Head, University of Southampton

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. But it’s only in recent days, in May 2022, that the secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has reported its first confirmed cases of the virus.

While it may seem somewhat astounding that a country has managed to get so far into the pandemic without an outbreak, North Korea has reportedly had its borders sealed since January 2020, with no movement in or out of the country. So it is plausible that they’ve had no COVID until now.

But now, the country, which has a population of roughly 26 million people, looks to be facing a very sizeable and rapidly-spreading outbreak of the omicron variant. As of May 17, 1.4 million cases of “fever” had been reported, with 56 deaths since late April. The country is treating fever as indicative of COVID infection owing to reported shortages of testing supplies.

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