Jun 1, 2022 - World

WHO believes North Korea's COVID outbreak is worsening

Health care workers giving a person  prescription medicine in Pyongyang on May 27.
Health care workers giving a person prescription medicine in Pyongyang on May 27. Photo: Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said it assumes North Korea's coronavirus outbreak is "getting worse, not better," but severely lacks data from the country.

Why it matters: WHO officials are questioning recent reports from state-run media outlets, which claimed as recently as Sunday that the country's outbreak had improved and that leaders were considering revising its containment measures, according to CNN.

What they're saying: "We assume the situation is getting worse, not better," WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan said during a press conference Wednesday, though he stressed that the organization lacks concrete data from the country and could not provide a proper analysis.

  • "We're working off the same information that most of you are out there. This is not any privileged information. We have real issues in getting access to the raw data and to the actual situation on the ground," he added.
  • "We have offered assistance on multiple occasions. We've offered vaccines on three separate occasions. We continue to offer vaccines. We continue to offer supplies."
  • "We do not want to see intense transmission of this disease in a mainly susceptible population in a health system that's already weakened. This is not good for the people of DPRK. This is not good for the region. This is not good for the world."
  • Ryan said the WHO is working with China and South Korea to gain more insight in what may be happening within North Korea.

The big picture: Since North Korea officially confirmed a positive coronavirus case on May 11, the full extent of its outbreak has been largely unknown.

  • Experts believe that the country has been unable to significantly diagnose a large portion of cases because it lacks testing supplies, as indicated by its decision to report “fever cases” rather than confirmed coronavirus infections.
  • After state media reported new "fever cases," the country's total number of cases was around 3.4 million with 69 deaths, per CNN.
  • The same outlets reported that 3.2 million people had recovered and at least 186,110 were receiving medical treatment.

Experts fear the country's strict national lockdown combined with its preexisting food insecurity and its government's unwillingness to accept foreign aid could lead to extremely high levels of civilian suffering.

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