COVID in North Korea
COVID in North Korea iStock

The World Health Organization (WHO) lamented Wednesday that it had no access to data about North Korea's COVID-19 outbreak, but assumed the crisis was deepening, contrary to Pyongyang's reports of "progress", AFP reports.

North Korea last month reported its first deaths following a rapid spread of fever across the nation.

With the reports, the country in essence acknowledged for the first time that a COVID-19 outbreak had been recorded in the country. North Korea had long insisted it had no single case of the virus on its territory, but that claim was being questioned by outside experts.

Last week, however, North Korea said it is witnessing a "stable" downward trend in the COVID-19 outbreak.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan on Wednesday questioned that claim.

"We assume that situation is getting worse not better," he told reporters, acknowledging though that the secretive totalitarian state had provided only very limited information.

"Right now we are not in a position to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground," he said, pointing out that "it is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we don't have access to the necessary data."

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's lead on COVID-19, meanwhile said the country had registered around 3.7 million suspected Covid cases, although the official accounts only mention cases of "fever".

"There are many recoveries that have been reported, but there's limited information that we have from the country currently," Van Kerkhove said, according to AFP.

North Korea, which has one of the worst health systems in the world, has not vaccinated any of its roughly 25 million people, having rejected jabs offered by the WHO.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently ordered the country’s military be used to stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang amid the COVID-19 outbreak.