North Korea acknowledged nine cases of swine flu on Wednesday, but relief officials in South Korea reported that dozens of North Koreans had died of the flu.
North Korea’s official news agency, K.C.N.A., said the nine cases had been confirmed in the capital of Pyongyang and in Sinuiju, a town near the border with China. It did not say whether there had been any deaths.
However, the aid group Good Friends, which is based in Seoul but gleans information on North Korea through inside informants, said about 40 people had died in the last month after the H1N1 strain caused a flu outbreak in the North.
The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, offered Tuesday to send flu medication to North Korea. The North, which regards him as a traitor for his stance against its nuclear weapons programme, has not responded. North Korean health officials were stepping up “the quarantine system against the spread of this flu virus while properly carrying on the prevention and medical treatment,” K.C.N.A. said.
Good Friends also said that the North Korean government was strengthening customs inspections on the border with China in what seemed to be an attempt to contain the virus. The group also said the authorities were instructing schools to start a winter vacation earlier than usual.
North Korea, which is tightly controlled by the government of the reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, rarely acknowledges its domestic problems to the outside world. It suffered a deadly famine in the 1990s, and has been accepting help from South Korean and other outside relief agencies.