(ATTN: UPDATES with more info from 3rd para; ADDS photo, byline)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's new suspected COVID-19 cases stayed below 40,000 for the second consecutive day, its state media said Tuesday.
More than 32,810 people showed symptoms of fever over a 24-hour period until 6 p.m. the previous day, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing data from the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters.
It did not provide information on whether additional deaths have been reported. The death toll stood at just 72 as of June 11.
The total number of fever cases since late April came to over 4.5 million as of 6 p.m. Monday, of which more than 4.44 million have recovered, and at least 57,780 are being treated, it added.
The country's daily fever tally has been on a downward trend after peaking at over 392,920 on May 15.
Earlier, South Korea's unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said that the North could announce an end to its virus crisis within this month if such a trend continues.
The North stressed that its health officials are striving to confirm coronavirus cases accurately and treat them in time by monitoring people with fever and "putting the laboratory test on a more rapid and scientific basis."
"The public health sector has intensified the work to develop and introduce the optimal treatment methods and tactics," the KCNA said in an English-language report. "As a result, the number of recoveries from fever is increasing with each passing day."
It also claimed that they "regularly" conduct strict testing on samples collected from various areas, while stepping up efforts to "strictly check the outbreak and inroads of new COVID-19 variant."
Observers, however, question the credibility of the coronavirus tally released by Pyongyang, known for its dilapidated health system.
Concerns have been raised that the virus outbreak could further worsen the impoverished nation's fragile economy and deepen its chronic food shortage problem among many of the 25 million residents nationwide.
On May 12, North Korea disclosed its first COVID-19 case after claiming to be coronavirus-free for over two years.
(News Focus) Five years after its full nuke armament claim, N. Korea's threat becomes real, further complicated
(World Cup) S. Korea lodges complaint with FIFA over interpretation errors
Yoon warns of unprecedented response if N. Korea conducts nuclear test
BTS' Suga to host his own talk show 'Suchwita'
Actress Son Ye-jin gives birth to son with actor Hyun Bin