North Korea reports another outbreak of infectious disease amid battle against COVID

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea reported an outbreak of an unknown gastro-intestinal epidemic on Thursday, which could increase pressures on the health care system in the isolated country battling an unprecedented wave of COVID-19.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent medicines to the western port city of Haeju on Wednesday to help patients suffering from an “acute intestinal epidemic” as soon as possible, according to North Korean state media.

She did not say how many people were infected or what the disease was, but she refers to the digestive system.

“(Kim) stressed the need to contain the epidemic as soon as possible by taking coherent measures to quarantine suspected cases to completely limit its spread, and confirming cases through epidemiological examination and scientific tests,” the agency said.

The reported outbreak comes as North Korea grapples with its first outbreak of COVID-19 infection. A state of emergency was declared last month amid fears of a shortage of vaccines and medical supplies.

North Korea reported 26,010 more people had symptoms of fever on Thursday, as the total number of fever patients registered across the country since late April reached 4.56 million. The death toll linked to the outbreak was 73.

Pyongyang has been reporting daily the number of fever patients, not COVID patients, and appears to be short on testing kits. Experts also suspect that the numbers released by the government-controlled media are underreported.

North Korea said the COVID wave has shown signs of abating, but the World Health Organization disputed Pyongyang’s claims earlier this month, saying it believed the situation was getting worse.

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(Reporting by Su Hyang Choi; Editing by Lincoln Fest.)

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