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TOPSHOT - Employees spray disinfectant and wipe surfaces as part of preventative measures against the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Pyongyang Children's Department Store in Pyongyang on March 18, 2022. (Photo by KIM Won Jin / AFP) (Photo by KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images)

North Korea Reports First Coronavirus Deaths amid ‘Explosive’ Outbreak

North Korea documented six deaths from the Chinese coronavirus on Friday amid an “explosive” outbreak of the disease that infected 18,000 people in the country on Thursday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

“On May 12 alone, some 18,000 persons with fever occurred nationwide and as of now up to 187,800 people are being isolated and treated,” KCNA wrote in an English-language report published May 13.

The article further revealed that six people had died from the Chinese coronavirus in North Korea as of Friday, with at least one of the deaths linked to the omicron variant of the disease.

The nation’s current epidemic of the Chinese coronavirus began in late April as an “unknown fever” before spreading “explosively” across North Korea, KCNA said Friday. The outbreak, which is the first Chinese coronavirus epidemic ever officially acknowledged by Pyongyang, has affected 350,000 people in North Korea, according to KCNA. The state news agency noted on May 13 that 162,200 people had been “fully treated” for the disease in recent weeks. North Korea’s population is estimated at 24 million.

Employees spray disinfectant and wipe surfaces as part of preventative measures against the coronavirus at the Pyongyang Children’s Department Store in Pyongyang on March 18, 2022. (KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images)

The communist state of North Korea announced its first official cases of the Chinese coronavirus on May 12. The development marked the first time Pyongyang admitted to any infections of the disease since it sparked a pandemic in March 2020. Observers have suspected that North Korea likely endured periodic outbreaks of the Chinese coronavirus over the past two-plus years owing to the nation’s shared border with China, which is where the disease originated in the autumn or winter of 2019.

The Associated Press

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledges the officers and soldiers who took part in a celebration the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, in North Korea on April 27, 2022. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

North Korea became the first country in the world to close all of its borders in January 2020 in the face of the then-impending Chinese coronavirus pandemic. The action sealed the country off from its neighbors — China, Russia, and South Korea — and seemed to largely prevent major outbreaks of the Chinese coronavirus within North Korea, at least officially.

One alleged case of the Chinese coronavirus may have occurred in North Korea in August 2020, though the World Health Organization refused to officially acknowledge the infection. The U.N. public health body said a coronavirus test on the patient in question proved “inconclusive.”

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper alleged in July 2020 that “[t]he number of coronavirus fatalities in North Korea surpassed 500 late last month.”

“The number of confirmed cases stands at only around 40 while another 100 are suspected, but 390,000 people have been isolated, so the number of fatalities is rising sharply,” the publication claimed, citing unnamed sources.

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