North Korea has reported its first official Corona case. Apparently the Omicron variant BA.2 has entered the country. Dictator Kim Jong Un spoke of a “serious national emergency”. He imposed nationwide lockdowns.

Internationally isolated North Korea has reported the first corona outbreak since the pandemic began more than two years ago. The state news agency KCNA said on Thursday that it was a “severe national emergency”. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced nationwide lockdowns.

According to KCNA, samples from patients who fell ill with a fever in the capital Pyongyang on Sunday matched the highly contagious omicron variant BA.2. Kim then told an emergency Politburo meeting that the country would implement a “maximum” quarantine protocol to contain the outbreak. The aim is to “eliminate the root within the shortest possible time”. Kim added that North Korea “will surely overcome the emergency and win the emergency quarantine project because of the people’s high level of political awareness.”

Kim called for stricter border controls and lockdown measures. According to KCNA, the ruler urged the authorities to “completely prevent the spread of the vicious virus by thoroughly sealing off their areas in all cities and counties across the country.” All economic activities are organized in such a way that each production unit is “isolated” to prevent the spread of the disease.

Seoul-based specialist website NK News reported that areas in Pyongyang had been locked down for two days and there were reports of panic buying.

The country went into lockdown in early 2020 to protect itself from the pandemic. As of Thursday, North Korea had not confirmed a single case of Covid-19. Analysts say North Korea’s healthcare system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak.

Also read: Brazenly, in the face: How I was lied to in North Korea for seven days

North Korea is surrounded by countries that have all had severe omicron outbreaks. In South Korea, the latest wave of infections has fallen sharply since March, and Seoul recently lifted almost all restrictions. China is fighting outbreaks in several provinces with tough lockdowns, and the economic metropolis of Shanghai has been sealed off for weeks.

“For Pyongyang to publicly admit omicron cases, the health situation must be serious,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang is likely to step up lockdown measures, although the failure of China’s zero-Covid strategy suggests this approach will not work against the omicron variant.”

According to North Korea expert Cheong Seong Chang of the Sejong Institute, North Korea will try to avoid such strict measures as in Shanghai, where citizens are “virtually locked in their homes”. But even less stringent measures would result in “severe food shortages and the same chaos that China is facing now,” he said.

Unlike neighboring countries, hardly anyone in the North Korean population has probably been vaccinated against the virus. North Korea had previously rejected vaccine offers from the World Health Organization (WHO), China and Russia. Vaccine adoption under the WHO’s Covax program “requires transparency about how the vaccines are distributed,” said Go Myong Hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “That’s why North Korea rejected it.”


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