Pyongyang announces its first ever case of Covid-19, a ‘serious national emergency’

The first case of Covid-19 infection since the start of the pandemic has been reported in North Korea, the official press announced on Thursday. This first case, detected during tests carried out on Sunday in Pyongyang on sick and feverish people, “corresponds” to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the official KCNA news agency said.

The country’s leader Kim Jong-un announced the establishment of an “extreme emergency” virus control system after a politburo crisis meeting.

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“The objective was to eliminate the root as soon as possible,” said the leader quoted by the state agency KCNA. “He assured us that because of the strong political consciousness of the population […]we will surely overcome the emergency and succeed with the emergency quarantine project,” the news agency said.

Kim Jong-un called for stricter border control as well as containment measures, asking residents to “completely prevent the spread of the malicious virus by completely locking down their neighborhoods in all cities and counties across the country,” according to KCNA. All productive and commercial activities will be organized so that each work unit is “isolated” to prevent the spread of the virus, he added.

Borders closed since the start of the pandemic

North Korea has long boasted of its ability to keep the virus at bay. The country completely closed its borders from the start of the pandemic in 2020, at the expense of its economy.

Pyongyang had not announced any confirmed cases of Covid-19 until Thursday. According to the World Health Organization, North Korea had conducted 13,259 anti-Covid tests in 2020, all of which came back negative.

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Experts believe North Korea has failed to vaccinate any of its 25 million people, having rejected vaccination offers from the WHO, China and Russia. Observers believe that the country’s very weak health system would struggle to overcome a major epidemic.

Analysts say the health crisis in North Korea could disrupt the country’s weapons tests. Pyongyang has already carried out more than a dozen weapons tests this year, including a full-range intercontinental ballistic missile, for the first time since 2017.

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