North Korea has confirmed its first-ever case of Covid-19 and declared a “severe national emergency”
North Korea confirmed its first-ever Covid cases Thursday and declared a “serious emergency”, with leader Kim Jong Un appearing in a mask on television for the first time to order nationwide lockdowns.
The nuclear-armed country had never admitted to a case of Covid-19, and the government had imposed a rigid coronavirus blockade of its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Top officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, held a crisis politburo meeting on Thursday to discuss the outbreak and announced they would implement the “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system”.
Kim “called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas,” KCNA reported, although details of the restrictions were not immediately given.
Kim added that North Korea will “overcome the current sudden situation and win victory in the emergency epidemic prevention work”.
North Korea’s crumbling health infrastructure would struggle to deal with a major outbreak, with its 25 million people not vaccinated, experts say.
“Pyongyang will likely double down on lockdowns, even though the failure of China’s zero-Covid strategy suggests that approach won’t work against the Omicron variant.”
North Korea has turned down offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organization, China, and Russia.
“That’s why North Korea rejected it,” Go said.
South Korea, which has high rates of vaccination, has recently eased almost all Covid-19 restrictions, with cases sharply down after a spike in March.
Major Chinese cities, including the financial capital Shanghai, have been under strict lockdowns for weeks.
It appears North Korea will try to avoid China’s strict measures, which have seen millions of people locked into their apartments for several weeks, including in Beijing, said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute.
Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported that areas of Pyongyang had already been locked down for two days, with reports of panic buying.
The public emergence of Covid in Pyongyang could also have repercussions on North Korea’s nuclear programme.
After high-profile talks collapsed in 2019, North Korea has doubled-down on weapons testing, conducting a blitz of launches so far this year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But the Covid-19 outbreak could potentially disrupt their military programme, analysts said.
But he said if public fears over an outbreak were to spread, Kim might go ahead with a test “to divert this fear to another place”.
Originally published as North Korea reports first Covid cases, Kim orders national lockdown