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N.Korea reports 15 more COVID-19 deaths

North Korea has confirmed 15 more deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional patients with flu-like symptoms as it mobilises more than a million health and other workers to try to suppress the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported.

After maintaining a widely disputed claim to be coronavirus-free for more than two years, North Korea announced on Thursday it had found its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

It has since said a fever has spread across the country “explosively” since late April but has not disclosed exactly how many COVID-19 cases it has found.

Some experts say North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test a large number of suspected COVID-19 patients.

The additional deaths reported on Sunday took the country’s reported fever-related fatalities to 42.

The official Korean Central News Agency also reported that another 296,180 people with flu symptoms had been tallied, taking the reported total to 820,620.

The outbreak has triggered concern about a humanitarian crisis in North Korea because most of the country’s 26 million people are believed to be unvaccinated against the coronavirus and its public health care system has been in shambles for decades.

Some experts say North Korea might suffer huge fatalities if it does not immediately receive outside shipments of vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies.

Since Thursday, North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown to fight the virus.

Observers say that could further strain the country’s fragile economy, which has suffered in recent years due to sharply reduced external trade caused by pandemic-related border shutdowns, punishing UN economic sanctions over its nuclear program and its own mismanagement.

During a meeting on the outbreak on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un described the outbreak as a historically “great upheaval” and called for unity between the government and people to stabilise the outbreak as quickly as possible.

KCNA said on Sunday more than 1.3 million people have been engaged in works to examine and treat sick people and raise public awareness of hygiene. It said everyone with fevers and others with abnormal symptoms was being put in quarantine and treated.

State media reports said Mr Kim and other senior North Korean officials are donating their private reserve medicines to support the country’s anti-pandemic fight.

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