The World Health Organization lamented on Wednesday that it did not have access to data on the Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea, but assumed the crisis was worsening, contrary to reports from Pyongyang on “progress”.
North Korea, which announced its first-ever coronavirus cases on May 12, said last week its Covid outbreak had been brought under control, with state media reporting a drop in the number of cases.
But WHO emergency director Michael Ryan questioned that claim.
“We assume the situation is getting worse, not better,” he told reporters, acknowledging, however, that the secretive totalitarian state had provided only very limited information.
“At the moment, we are not in a position to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” he said, stressing that “it is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we do not have access to the necessary data.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s official on Covid-19, meanwhile said the country had recorded around 3.7 million suspected Covid cases, although official accounts only mention “fever” cases.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported last Friday that the number of cases fell for a seventh consecutive day, with just over 100,000 new cases of “fever” in 24 hours. , down from a peak of 390,000 daily cases earlier in May.
KCNA also reported one more death on Friday – bringing the official toll to 69 – and said the death rate remained at 0.002%.
“There are many recoveries that have been reported, but we currently have limited information about the country,” 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, after rejecting injections offered by the WHO.
Ryan stressed the importance of bringing the outbreak under control in the impoverished country.
“We have offered assistance several times. We have offered vaccines three times. We continue to offer,” he said.
He said the UN health agency was working with China and South Korea to get help, hailing ‘a very positive attitude towards solving this collective problem’ .
The WHO has repeatedly warned against allowing the virus that causes Covid to spread unchecked, among other things, because it is then more likely to mutate and produce new, potentially more dangerous variants.
“We don’t want to see intense transmission of this disease in a mostly susceptible population, in an already weakened healthcare system,” Ryan said.
“It’s not good for the people (of North Korea). It’s not good for the region. It’s not good for the world.”