North Korea announces strict lockdown as country confirms first COVID case

A health care employee donned COVID kit stands outside hospital. [FPK Photo/Zainab.]

North Korea has ordered a strict countrywide lockdown after confirming the first case of Coronavirus, international media reported.

State media have reported an Omicron outbreak in the capital, Pyongyang, but did not state the number of cases, BBC News reported.

North Korea has rejected any kind of vaccine programme, even when offered a supply by other countries.

Instead, it controlled COVID by sealing its borders – and had never recorded a case, despite experts believing the virus has long been present.

Outsiders say that the country’s 25 million population is vulnerable due to the lack of the COVID vaccine programme, even rejecting offers from the international community to supply millions of AstraZeneca and Chinese-made Sinovac jabs last year.

There have also been concerns about North Korea’s impoverished healthcare system, the report said.

KCNA said leader Kim Jong-un had vowed to eradicate the outbreak, which it called a “severe national emergency” that had breached the country’s “quarantine front”.

At the meeting outlining the new COVID rules, Kim was seen wearing a face mask on television for what is believed to be the first time. He soon removed it, while other officials present kept theirs on.

North Korea’s strategy of sealing its foreign borders – one of the first countries to do so, in January 2020 – has also stopped essential supplies from entering the country, leading to food shortages and a faltering economy.

On Thursday, KCNA said Kim had ordered: “maximum emergency” virus controls, which appeared to include orders for localised lockdowns and gathering restrictions in workplaces.

The North Korean news outlet added that the first case of the Omicron variant had been reportedly detected in the capital four days ago.

Residents in some areas of Pyongyang had been subjected to lockdown for at least two days before the latest announcement, according to NK News, a Seoul-based monitoring site.

South Korea’s government said it has renewed its offer of humanitarian assistance to the North in response to the news of the outbreak. Pyongyang has yet to respond, the report added.


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