A severe national emergency has been declared in North Korea after the country confirmed its first-ever COVID-19 outbreak, prompting its Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, to pledge the virus would quickly be eliminated.
State media recently reported that a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron virus, known as BA.2, had been detected in the country’s capital, Pyongyang.
Official KCNA news agency said: “There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020.”
According to the report, residents of Pyongyang had contracted the Omicron variant, without revealing details on case numbers or possible infection sources.
North Korea had claimed a single case of COVID-19 has not been recorded since it closed its borders when the pandemic started over two years ago.
Experts have revealed that the discovery of the Omicron variant poses a serious risk to North Korea, a country that has not vaccinated any of its 25 million people. Also, its poorly resourced healthcare system would struggle to cope with a major outbreak.
So far, the country has rejected vaccines offered by the UN-backed Covax distribution programme, possibly since administering the jabs would require international monitoring.
Reports have it that the areas of Pyongyang had been in lockdown for two days which has triggered panic buying due to uncertainty over when the lockdown will end.
According to the KCNA report, samples taken from patients that have developed fever in Pyongyang were “consistent with” the Omicron variant.
The discovery made Kim call a crisis meeting of the Workers’ party politburo, where officials promised they would implement “maximum” emergency measure services like tighter border controls and lockdown measures, with Kim telling citizens “to completely block the spread of the malicious virus by thoroughly blocking their areas in all cities and counties across the country”.
KCNA said every business and production activity will be organised so each work unit is “isolated” to halt the spread of disease.
During the meeting, Kim said, “the goal was to eliminate the root within the shortest period of time.”