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North Korea Says Its Covid Outbreak Is Spreading Fast

SEOUL — North Korea reported a significant surge in suspected coronavirus infections and deaths on Saturday as it struggled to contain its first reported outbreak, which the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said could be one of the greatest crises in the country’s history.

State media said an additional 174,400 people had symptoms, like fever, that could be due to Covid-19, nearly a tenfold jump from the 18,000 such cases reported on Friday. It also said 21 more people had died in connection with the outbreak, bringing the country’s total to 27. But the reports did not say how many of the new infections or deaths had been definitively linked to Covid-19 through testing.

“North Korea is reporting only ‘people with fever’ because it does not have enough test kits,” said Cheong Seong-chang, the director of the Center for North Korean Studies of the Sejong Institute in South Korea. “Some of the people with fever may not be actual patients, but there could be far more cases among asymptomatic people without any fever. So the actual number of infected people will likely be more than the North has announced.”

Most of the newly reported deaths were caused by overdoses of medication and other negligence caused by a lack of medical expertise, North Korean health officials were quoted as saying during a high-level meeting on Saturday. At the meeting, Mr. Kim criticized health officials in the North’s ruling Workers’ Party for “incompetence” and “irresponsibility,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

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