North Korea says it is dealing with an outbreak of an unknown intestinal disease, increasing tensions over the spread of COVID-19.
According to the official KCNA news agency report, the country’s leader Kim Jong-un has ordered the implementation of quarantine measures.
It said it sent the medicine to the city of Heju on Wednesday to help patients suffering from an “acute bowel epidemic”.
Health experts suspect that the disease could be typhoid or cholera. North Korea declared a state of emergency in May after it said millions were experiencing “fever”, believed to be untested COVID-19 cases.
It did not give details of the number of people affected by the latest disease outbreak or the disease, but gastroenteritis refers to the gastrointestinal tract.
“Kim stressed the need to stop the epidemic as soon as possible by taking a well-deserved measure to prevent suspected cases through epidemiological testing and scientific tests to confirm cases,” KCNA said.
An official from South Korea’s unification ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, told Reuters news agency that the government suspected an outbreak of cholera or typhoid.
South Hwanghae Province, where Heju is located, is North Korea’s central agricultural region, which may worsen the country’s widespread food shortage.
Pyongyang has been announcing the number of fever patients, but the country is short of COVID test kits. Many also suspect the government of underreporting new cases.
North Korea reported 26,010 more people with fever symptoms on Thursday, taking the total number of fever patients across the country to near 4.56 million since late April.
The government says the death toll from the outbreak is 73, but the World Health Organization and others have said they fear the situation is much worse. North Korea has a strict healthcare system and has turned down international offers of vaccines for its population.