North Korea reports first Covid cases, Kim orders national lockdown

North Korea has confirmed its first-ever case of Covid-19 and declared a “serious national emergency”

North Korea confirmed its first-ever Covid cases on Thursday, declaring a “serious emergency” with leader Kim Jong Un making his first televised appearance in a mask to order nationwide lockdowns.

The nuclear-armed country had never admitted a case of Covid-19 and the government had imposed a rigid coronavirus blockade of its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Top officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, held a crisis politburo meeting on Thursday to discuss the outbreak and announced they would implement the “maximum emergency system for epidemic prevention.”

Kim “called on all cities and counties across the country to thoroughly seal off their areas,” KCNA reported, though details of the restrictions were not immediately given.

Kim added that North Korea “will overcome the current sudden situation and take the victory in the work of epidemic prevention”.

North Korea’s crumbling health infrastructure would struggle to cope with a major outbreak, with its 25 million people unvaccinated, experts say.

“Pyongyang is likely to double its lockdowns, although the failure of China’s zero-covid strategy suggests that approach won’t work against the Omicron variant.”

North Korea has rejected offers of vaccines from the World Health Organization, China and Russia.

“That’s why North Korea rejected it,” Go said.

South Korea, which has high vaccination rates, has recently relaxed nearly all Covid-19 restrictions, with cases falling sharply after peaking in March.

Major Chinese cities, including the financial capital Shanghai, have been under strict lockdowns for weeks.

It looks like North Korea will try to avoid China’s strict measures, which have left millions locked in their apartments for weeks, including in Beijing, said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute.

Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported that parts of Pyongyang had been shut down for two days, with reports of panic buying.

The public rise of Covid in Pyongyang could also affect North Korea’s nuclear program.

After high-profile talks fell through in 2019, North Korea has doubled its weapons tests, carrying out a string of launches so far this year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But the Covid-19 outbreak could potentially disrupt their military program, analysts said.

But he said that if public fear of an outbreak spread, Kim could go ahead with a test “to divert this fear elsewhere”.

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