North Korea Reports Its First Covid-19 Outbreak, Kim Jong-Un Orders National Lockdown
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Topline

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide lockdown on Thursday after his country publicly reported its first Covid-19 outbreak in a surprising acknowledgment after denying any cases within its border for more than two years, a claim that had been widely questioned.

Key Facts

According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), test samples collected from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital Pyongyang confirmed that they were infected with the BA.2 Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Responding to the outbreak the North Korean leader ordered a thorough lockdown of cities and counties and said that the workplaces should be reorganized into isolated blocks to prevent the virus from spreading, the report added.

In a ruling party politburo meeting on Thursday, Kim ordered party officials to control and eradicate the source of the ongoing Covid-19 spread.

The politburo also censured the country’s epidemic prevention officials, accusing them of “carelessness, relaxation, irresponsibility and inefficiency.”

Despite the pandemic measures, Kim stressed that “planned economic work” in North Korea cannot be stopped due to the virus.

According to the Associated Press, dozen of people were seen working on farmlands and walking on footpaths in a North Korean border town that can be seen from the South Korean side, indicating that the “lockdown” does not necessarily mean suspension of all work activities.

Key Background

Thursday’s revelation is the first time that North Korea has acknowledged a Covid-19 outbreak inside its borders, however, experts have raised doubts about Pyongyang’s earlier virus-free claims. While details about this particular outbreak remain very sparse, the BA.2 omicron variant has been shown to be highly transmissible and difficult to fully eradicate once it takes hold. North Korea’s problem could be further compounded by the fact that most of its population remains unvaccinated against the deadly virus. Pyongyang had previously turned down vaccines offered to it as part of the U.N. backed COVAX program, in a possible effort to avoid monitoring requirements. The Associated Press reports that the disclosure of the omicron outbreak may be a signal that North Korea is seeking outside help.

Further Reading

North Korea confirms 1st COVID outbreak, Kim orders lockdown (Associated Press)

North Korea reports its first Covid outbreak (New York Times)

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