North Korea confirms 1st COVID outbreak, Kim orders lockdown

May 12, 2022: North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after holding for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world.

Authorities detected a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, BA.2, in people in Pyongyang, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday, without elaborating on the number of confirmed cases.

The official Korean Central News Agency said tests of samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant.

In response, leader Kim Jong Un during a ruling party Politburo meeting called for a thorough lockdown of cities and counties and said workplaces should be isolated by units to block the virus from spreading, KCNA said. He urged health workers to step up disinfection efforts at workplaces and homes and mobilize reserve medical supplies.

Kim said it was crucial to stabilize transmissions and eliminate the infection source as fast as possible, while also easing the inconveniences to the public caused by the virus controls. Kim insisted that the country will surely overcome what he described as an unexpected outbreak because its government and people are “united as one.”

“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,” the state broadcaster said.

It added that “maximum” control efforts were being imposed in Pyongyang.

It reported later that Kim Jong Un had “called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas” with factories, businesses and homes closed down and reorganised “to flawlessly and perfectly block the spread vacuum of the malicious virus.”

The North, which sealed its borders in January 2020, had been one of the few countries on Earth not to report an outbreak of COVID-19, although analysts have long expressed doubt about the official figures given the country’s long, porous land border with China.

China is currently battling dozens of virus outbreaks including in Dandong, which is the North’s main trading link with the country. Pyongyang suspended inbound rail cargo from China in late April as a result of the outbreaks, only four months after resuming the service, according to NK News.

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