The COVID outbreak in North Korea could lead to a spike in stillbirths as pregnant women suspected of having the disease are taken to hotels, warehouses and other makeshift medical facilities that lack proper treatment, said Sources in the country RFA with.
After more than two years of denials that North Koreans had contracted the coronavirus, the country finally announced its first cases and deaths this month and said the Omicron variant had begun to make its mark among attendees of a large-scale military parade in late April to spread.
The country responded by declaring a “maximum emergency” and began locking down entire cities and counties, with people being told to check their temperatures twice a day and report symptoms. Suspected cases were isolated from the rest of the population.
The makeshift quarantine facilities, sometimes set up in empty tourist or industrial facilities, are ill-equipped to treat those infected with the virus, and pregnant patients added a new layer of complications.
“At the Anju Hotel, men and women with symptoms of COVID-19 will be separated and isolated in their rooms,” a resident of the city of Anju in South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, told RFA’s Korean service.
About 200 Anju residents are isolated at the hotel and their treatment consists of just two painkiller pills a day, said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“Among those with severe symptoms being quarantined at the hotels, many are pregnant women,” the source said. “Anyone who is about to give birth is at risk. There have been cases of stillborn babies being born well before their due date because the women could not get proper treatment.
“The quarantine authorities have only dealt with the bodies of the stillborn babies and are not giving any further treatment or special care to the mothers who complain of high fevers or postpartum symptoms. Families are outraged that quarantine officials say they can only let grieving mothers go if they recover from their COVID-19 symptoms,” she said.
The source said she was specifically aware of two women who had stillbirths, including one who was helped by a doctor to deliver the baby.
In Chungsan County, in another part of the province, suspected COVID-19 cases are being isolated in an empty warehouse at a cooperative farm, a local resident told RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“Food is provided by the municipality. The Central Committee provides two fever pills for each person, but the pills don’t really work on patients with high fevers,” he said.
“At the moment there are about 300 patients in quarantine in the camp and in the farm propaganda office. There are about 20 pregnant women in the group who are suffering from high fever and pregnancy poisoning, swelling and pain all over the body after 10 days of isolation in a harsh environment, so they are asking for proper treatment,” he said.
But the quarantine officials treat the pregnant women the same as everyone else at the makeshift facility.
“They give the pregnant women the same corn, rice and spinach soup as the other patients and no treatment is given. The pregnant women have stillbirths because they can’t eat properly when they’re sick, and the fetuses die in their stomachs,” he said.
“As news of stillbirths spread among families of pregnant women quarantined due to COVID-19, local residents are complaining that authorities and their COVID-19 quarantine measures are killing pregnant women and their unborn babies,” he said the second source.
About 2.8 million people have been struck by fever outbreaks, 68 of whom have died, according to data based on North Korean state media reports released by 38 north, a website providing analysis about the country and operated by US-based think tank Stimson Center. Around 2.3 million are said to have recovered, while 479,400 are on treatment.
The country has only a handful of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which 38 north due to insufficient testing facilities. Data released at Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center showed North Korea with just one confirmed COVID-19 case and six deaths as of Monday night.
Translated by Claire Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.