North Korea confirms 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19
An employee of the Kyonghung Foodstuff General Store disinfects the showroom in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, November 10, 2021. Before acknowledging domestic COVID-19 cases, Thursday, May 12, 2022, North Korea spent 2 1/2 years rejecting outside offers of vaccines and steadfastly claiming that its superior socialist system was protecting its 26 million people from “a malicious virus” that had killed millions around the world. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Saturday reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 more people with fever symptoms as the country scrambles to slow the spread of COVID-19 across its unvaccinated population.

The new deaths and cases, which were from Friday, increased total numbers to 27 deaths and 524,440 illnesses amid a rapid spread of fever since late April. North Korea said 243,630 people had recovered and 280,810 remained in quarantine. State media didn’t specify how many of the fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 infections.

The country imposed nationwide lockdowns on Thursday after confirming its first COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. It had previously held for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting on anti-virus strategies on Saturday described the outbreak as a historically “huge disruption” and called for unity between the government and people to stabilize the outbreak as quickly as possible.

Kim expressed optimism that the country could bring the outbreak under control, saying most transmissions are occurring within communities that are isolated from one another and not spreading from region to region. The country since Thursday has imposed stronger preventive measures aimed at restricting the movement of people and supplies between cities and counties, but state media’s descriptions of the steps indicate people aren’t being confined to their homes.

Experts say a failure to control the spread of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences in North Korea, considering the country’s poor health care system and that its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated.

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