North Korea confirmed its first COVID-19 outbreak on Thursday, calling it the “gravest national emergency” and ordering a national lockdown, with state media reporting an Omicron variant had been detected in Pyongyang.

Iran PressAsia:  As of March, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported, according to the World Health Organization, and there is no official record of any North Koreans having been vaccinated.

The first public admission of COVID infections highlights the potential for a significant crisis in a country that has refused international vaccination help and shut down its borders.

Official KCNA news agency reported that Pyongyang had contracted the Omicron variant without providing details on case numbers or possible sources of infection. The samples of the infected people were collected on May 8, it said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered all cities and counties to “strictly lock down” their regions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and said emergency reserve medical supplies would be mobilized.

Although the North has never before confirmed even a single coronavirus infection in the country, officials in South Korea and the United States have cast doubts, especially as cases of the Omicron variant were widely reported in neighboring South Korea and China.

North Korea has enforced strict quarantine measures, including border lockdowns, since the pandemic began in early 2020. In July that year, Kim declared an emergency and imposed a lockdown on Kaesong, near the inter-Korean border, for three weeks after a man who defected to the South in 2017 returned to the city showing coronavirus symptoms.

According to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 64,207 of North Korea’s more than 24.7 million people received COVID-19 testing; all had been found negative as of March 31.

North Korea has declined shipments of vaccines from the COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing program and the Sinovac Biotech vaccine from China, suggesting no civilians may have been vaccinated.

The main crossing between China’s Dandong and the north-western North Korean town of Sinuiju was closed in April because of the COVID situation in the Chinese city, China said.


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