North Korea confirmed its first-ever COVID-19 cases on Thursday and declared a “severe emergency” with Kim Jong Un directing lockdowns across the country.
The country armed with nuclear weapons had never admitted that it had been affected by COVID-19. The government had placed a strict coronavirus blockade on its borders since the pandemic began in 2020.
But samples collected from patients suffering from Pyongyang fever “coincide with the Omicron BA.2 variant,” said the official Korean central news agency.
Senior officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, held a crisis politburo meeting on Thursday to discuss the epidemic and announced that they would implement the “maximum system for preventing urgent epidemics”
Kim “called on every city and county in the country to completely lock down their areas,” the KCNA reported, although details of the restrictions were not immediately provided.
Kim told the meeting that the objective was to “rapidly cure infections in order to eradicate the source of the spread of the virus,” according to KCNA.
Kim added that North Korea will ‘overcome the current sudden situation and win the battle to prevent emergency epidemics.’
The KCNA report did not indicate the number of COVID-19 infections found.
According to experts, North Korea’s crumbling health infrastructure would find it difficult to cope with a major epidemic, with 25 million people unvaccinated.
‘For Pyongyang to publicly admit omicron, the public health situation must be serious,’ said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is likely to double lockdown measures, although the failure of China’s zero-COVID strategy suggests this approach will not work against the Omicron variant.”