SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Wednesday added hundreds of thousands of infections to its growing pandemic caseload but also said that a million people have already recovered from suspected covid-19 about a week after disclosing an outbreak, a public health crisis it appears to be trying to manage in isolation as global experts express deep concern about dire consequences.
North Korea reported 262,270 new cases of fever and one death in state media today. Those figures raise its totals to 63 deaths and more than 1.98 million fever cases since late April. It said more than a million people recovered but at least 740, 160 remain in quarantine.
Outside experts believe most of the fevers are from covid-19 but North Korea lacks tests to confirm so many. The outbreak is almost certainly larger than the fever tally, since some virus carriers may not develop fevers or other symptoms.
It's also unclear how more than a million people recovered so quickly when limited medicine, medical equipment and health facilities exist to treat the country's impoverished, unvaccinated population of 26 million.
Some experts say the North could be simply releasing people from quarantine after their fevers subside.
Globally, covid-19 has killed about 6.3 million people with the true toll believed to be much higher. Countries with outbreaks of a similar size to North Korea's official fever tally have confirmed thousands of deaths each.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that North Korea has not responded to its request for more data about its outbreak.
Before acknowledging covid-19 infections for the first time earlier this month, North Korea had held to a widely doubted claim of keeping out the virus. It also shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because of international monitoring requirements attached to them.
North Korea and Eritrea are the only sovereign U.N.-member countries not to have rolled out vaccines, but Tedros said neither country has responded to WHO's offers of vaccines, medicines, tests and technical support.
"WHO is deeply concerned at the risk of further spread in (North Korea)," Tedros said, also noting the country has worrying numbers of people with underlying conditions that make them more likely to get severe covid-19.
WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said unchecked transmission of the virus could lead to new variants but that WHO was powerless to act unless countries accepted its help.
The North has so far ignored rival South Korea's offer to provide vaccines, medicine and health personnel, but experts say the North may be more willing to accept help from its main ally China. South Korea's government said it couldn't confirm media reports that North Korea flew multiple planes to bring back emergency supplies from China on Tuesday.
North Korean officials during a ruling party Politburo meeting Tuesday continued to express confidence that the country could overcome the crisis on its own, with the Politburo members discussing ways for "continuously maintaining the good chance in the overall epidemic prevention front," the official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.
At the meeting, Kim criticized officials over their early pandemic response, which he said underscored "immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis" and he blamed the country's vulnerability on their "non-positive attitude, slackness and non-activity," the news agency said.
He urged officials to strengthen virus controls at workplaces and redouble efforts to improve the supply of daily necessities and stabilize living conditions, the report said.
North Korea has also deployed nearly 3,000 military medical officers to help deliver medicine to pharmacies and deployed public health officials, teachers and students studying health care to identify people with fevers so they could be quarantined.