On June 27, North Korean authorities announced that they were considering measures to ward off the threat of "new virus variants." (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

North Korean authorities recently carried out emergency health checks of all the instructors and students at Kim Jong Thae Haeju University of Education in Haeju, South Hwanghae Province, after a spike in fever cases and deaths at the school.

A Daily NK source in South Hwanghae Province said Thursday that a “new kind of fever” began spreading through the dormitory of Kim Jong Thae Haeju University of Education from June 10. Haeju’s city authorities believed the situation to be serious, and reported it to the State Emergency Anti-epidemic Command through the provincial emergency quarantine authorities on June 20.

“In accordance with an emergency order from the State Emergency Anti-epidemic Command, all the educators and students were tested over three days starting June 23,” said the source.

North Korea claims to be stabilizing its COVID-19 situation, presenting falling numbers of fever cases. Yet inside North Korea, crisis situations such as this are emerging. People say that what happened at Kim Jong Thae Haeju University may have happened elsewhere, too.

According to the source, fever cases and deaths began spiking at Kim Jong Thae Haeju University from June 10. This was reported to the State Emergency Anti-epidemic Command, and emergency health checks were carried out on all of the school’s teachers and students.

Provincial and city public health officials have concluded among themselves that the outbreak could be a variant strain of COVID-19, and made a separate report to this effect to the Central Committee. Meanwhile, the authorities have mobilized the entire province to provide free medicines and antibiotics sent from Pyongyang to those quarantined and even those not showing any symptoms. 

The source said that even though several dormitory students at the school died, their deaths were not included in the central government’s COVID-19 statistics.

“The State Emergency Anti-epidemic Command ordered the authorities to conclude that they died of a ‘new kind of fever,’ not the coronavirus, and are dismissing the judgment of local health officials who believe a variant of the virus is spreading,” said the source.

What is known so far is that those who died experienced common symptoms, including high fever, chest pain and blood clots. Some also died after bouts of serious diarrhea after failing to respond to antibiotics.

Haeju health officials said that since they have reported their general analysis of the spike in deaths at the university to Pyongyang, the situation can be brought under control by treating patients with the drugs provided for free and by encouraging personal sanitation and good health. The officials also said that because provincial doctors cannot arbitrarily make specific medical diagnoses on their own, they would issue follow-up instructions in accordance with orders from Pyongyang.

However, many instructors and students at the university, along with their family members, suggest that the authorities may have urgently carried out the emergency health checks because a dangerous new variant of COVID-19 hit the school.

The source added that rumors are rife, with locals saying that while the state says COVID-19 is just a cold, people who have caught the bug suffer quite a bit. People are also saying that many of those released from quarantine received no medication at all, so they may not be fully recovered. These rumors also suggest that many people have died from COVID-19.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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