North Korea on Saturday (May 14) reported 21 additional deaths from "fever," two days after the country announced its first-ever cases of COVID-19 and ordered nationwide lockdowns.
State media said 174,440 new fever cases were discovered on Friday (May 13) alone and that 21 people had died, as it moved into "maximum emergency quarantine system" in a bid to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population.
"On May 13, 174,440 new cases of fever were reported nationwide, 81,430 recovered, and 21 died," the KCNA report said.
The KCNA report did not specify whether the victims were positive for COVID-19, but experts say the country lacks mass testing capacity.
"The total number of sick people nationwide was 524,440, of which 234,630 were fully recovered, 288,810 were receiving treatment, and the number of deaths so far is 27," it added.
North Korea held its second Politburo meeting this week, overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said the outbreak was causing "great turmoil" in the country, KCNA reported.
On Thursday (May 12) the country confirmed that people sick with fever in the capital Pyongyang had tested positive for Omicron, including one person who had died.
It was the North's first official confirmation of COVID-19 cases and marked the failure of a two year long coronavirus blockade maintained at great economic cost since the start of the pandemic.
State media said that the deaths were "due to negligence, including drug overdose, due to lack of knowledge of scientific treatment methods."
The meeting of the country's top leader discussed "promptly distributing emergency drugs" and introducing "scientific treatment tactics and treatment methods for different patients, including those with special constitutions," KCNA reported.
Kim Jong Un said he had "faith that we can overcome this malicious infectious disease within the shortest period possible," the report added.
North Korea has a crumbling health system—one of the worst in the world—and lacks essential medicines and equipment, experts say.
The country has announced lockdowns nationwide, and Kim said they would be following the Chinese model of virus prevention.
"We should take lessons from the experiences and fruitful achievements in preventing virus of the China's Communist Party and its people," he said.
China, the world's only major economy to still maintain a zero-COVID policy, is itself battling multiple Omicron outbreaks—with some major cities, including financial hub Shanghai, under stay-at-home orders.
North Korea has previously turned down offers of COVID-19 vaccines from China, as well as from the World Health Organization's Covax scheme. (AFP)