North Korea claims its Covid outbreak has stopped as abruptly as it started

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Less than three months after it announced its first domestic Covid-19 outbreak in May, North Korea reported not a single “fever” case on Saturday.

The country’s emergency anti-epidemic centre said through state media that it had found zero fever patients – the term North Korea has used to describe Covid infections – in the last 24-hour period.

Authorities said that the total caseload was about 4.8 million and that 99.99 per cent of them have fully recovered.

The country’s death toll, authorities said, remained at 74, a mortality rate of 0.0016 per cent that would be the world’s lowest if true.

In May, North Korea confirmed a Covid-19 outbreak in the country for the first time since the pandemic began, describing it as the “gravest national emergency”.

Kim Jong-un subsequently declared a nationwide lockdown and vowed to quickly eliminate the virus.

On Saturday, the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said: “The organisational power and unity unique to the society of North Korea is fully displayed in the struggle to bring forward a victory in the emergency anti-epidemic campaign by fully executing the anti-epidemic policies of the party and the state.”

The country had earlier claimed that it had recorded zero cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The claim has been widely doubted by health experts and analysts, and observers also doubted the country’s new claim of a “victory” against the virus.

Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea, said: “Since they began with manipulated data, they’re now putting an end to the outbreak with manipulated data.”

Shin Young-jeon, a professor of preventive medicine at Seoul’s Hanyang University, said that his study predicted that North Korea would likely have suffered 100,000-150,000 deaths with its Covid-19 outbreak.

He said that he conducted the study using South Korean data showing its mortality rate of unvaccinated people for the Omicron variant, an outbreak of which North Korea admitted in May was 0.6 per cent.

North Korea’s population of 26 million has not been vaccinated against coronavirus.

Shin Young-jeon, a professor at Hanyang University’s medical school in Seoul, also raised doubts on the data released by the North Korean authorities.

“It could result from a combination of a lack of testing capacity, counting issues given the fact that old people have higher chances of dying from Covid-19 mostly from home, and political reasons that the leadership do not want to publicise a massive death toll,” he wrote in an analysis released on Friday, reported Reuters.

The country is likely to keep the strict social controls it has imposed in part using the pandemic as a pretext as long as the “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” is in place.

Earlier this month, North Korea blamed balloons from the South for its Covid-19 outbreak.

Additional reporting by agencies

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