The corona situation in North Korea apparently worsened drastically over the weekend. The country reported 15 deaths from “fever” on Sunday, up from 21 on Saturday.

According to the state news agency KCNA, the number of deaths rose to a total of 42 – with 820,620 cases of illness and at least 324,550 cases requiring medical treatment. How many of the deaths can be attributed to the corona virus remained unclear due to a lack of testing capacities.

According to North Korea expert Cheong Seong-chang of South Korea’s Sejong Institute, “it is not an exaggeration to consider all these cases of ‘fever’ as Covid-19 diseases” given North Korea’s lack of testing.

According to Seong-chang, the actual infection numbers could be higher than the reported “fever” numbers because of many asymptomatic cases. The number of infections is growing “very quickly”.

North Korea only announced on Thursday that the highly contagious omicron variant had been discovered in the capital Pyongyang. Leader Kim Jong Un said the outbreak had caused “great unrest” in the country.

According to KCNA, a “complete lockdown” has been ordered for all provinces and cities. Despite drastic measures, North Korea reports high numbers of new cases in the unvaccinated population every day.

At a Politburo meeting on Friday, Kim said the outbreak had triggered “great unrest” in the country, according to KCNA. However, he is confident that “we can overcome this malignant infectious disease within a very short time”. According to the KCNA, the meeting discussed the distribution of emergency drugs and treatment methods.

State media said the deaths so far were “due to negligence, including drug overdose, due to a lack of knowledge of scientific treatment methods.”

Kim announced that Pyongyang will follow China’s model for nationwide lockdowns. North Korea should learn from China’s experiences and fruitful successes. Beijing is pursuing a strict zero-Covid strategy, but is currently struggling with corona outbreaks in several provinces.

North Korea expert Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, interprets Kim’s rhetoric as a pessimistic signal to his own population. “His language gives the impression that the situation in North Korea will get worse before it gets better,” he told AFP.

In his words, the ruler could “pave the way for international aid” – or “gather a population behind him who faces further victims”.

The already largely isolated communist North Korea sealed off its borders in early 2020 to protect itself from the pandemic. According to experts, the country has one of the worst health systems in the world.

North Korea is surrounded by countries that have all had or are having severe omicron outbreaks. Unlike in neighboring countries, however, none of North Korea’s 25 million inhabitants have been vaccinated against the corona virus.

The country has so far rejected offers of vaccines from China and the World Health Organization. After reports of the omicron outbreak in the country, both the government in Beijing and South Korea have again offered vaccines to the leadership in Pyongyang.