The World Health Organization lamented Wednesday that it had no access to data about North Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak, but assumed the crisis was deepening, contrary to Pyongyang’s reports of “progress.”
North Korea, which announced its first ever coronavirus cases on May 12, said last week its COVID-19 outbreak had been brought under control, with state media reporting falling caseloads.
But WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan questioned that claim.
“We assume that situation is getting worse not better,” he told reporters, acknowledging though that the secretive totalitarian state had provided only very limited information.
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“Right now, we are not in a position to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” he said, pointing out that “it is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we don’t have access to the necessary data.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’'s lead on COVID-19, meanwhile said the country had registered around 3.7 million suspected COVID-19 cases, although the official accounts only mention cases of “fever.”
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported last Friday that caseloads had fallen for a seventh straight day, with just over 100,000 new “fever” cases in 24 hours, down from a high of 390,000 daily cases earlier in May.
KCNA also reported one more death Friday - taking the official toll to 69 - and claimed the fatality rate remains at 0.002 percent.
“There are many recoveries that have been reported, but there’s limited information that we have from the country currently,” Van Kerkhove said.
North Korea, which has one of the worst health systems in the world, has not vaccinated any of its roughly 25 million people, having rejected jabs offered by the WHO.
Ryan stressed the importance of reining in the outbreak in the impoverished country.
“We have offered assistance on multiple occasions. We have offered vaccines on three separate occasions. We continue to offer,” he said.
He said the UN health agency was working with China and South Korea in a bid to get aid in, hailing “a very positive attitude toward trying to deal with this collective problem.”
The WHO has repeatedly cautioned against allowing the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread unchecked, among other things since it then is more likely to mutate and produce new, potentially more dangerous variants.
“We do not wish to see intense transmission of this disease in a mainly susceptible population, in a health system that has already weakened,” Ryan said.
“This is not this is not good for the people of (North Korea). This is not good for the region. This is not good for the world.”