SEOUL — North Korea on Thursday reported its first outbreak of the coronavirus, declaring a “maximum emergency” and ordering all of its cities and counties to go into lockdown to fight the spread.
On Sunday, health officials tested residents of an unidentified organization in the capital Pyongyang who were showing symptoms including fever and confirmed they were infected with a subvariant known as BA.2, the omicron variant of the virus, the north said, the official Korean Central News Agency. The news agency did not reveal how many people were infected.
The report was the first time the mysterious country has confirmed Covid-19 cases since the virus emerged in neighboring China more than two years ago.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un convened the Politburo of the ruling Labor Party on Thursday to discuss the crisis, the news agency said.
Mr Kim ordered “all cities and counties to enter into thorough lockdowns” to prevent the spread of the virus and for factory workers and farmers to continue working in isolation.
The news agency said Mr Kim also called for national unity during times of state emergency, telling his people that “an enemy worse than the vicious virus is unscientific fear and a lack of faith and will.”
Mr Kim called on his country to push ahead with the bold five-year plan for economic development he announced at a Labor Party congress in January last year. Under this plan, North Koreans have built residential neighborhoods in Pyongyang and greenhouse complexes in provinces.
As of Thursday, North Korea had publicly insisted there were no cases of the virus in the country, despite outside experts being skeptical, citing the country’s worn-out public health system and lack of comprehensive testing. North Korea has also turned down outside offers of humanitarian assistance related to the pandemic.
Officials in South Korea have hoped humanitarian supplies such as Covid-19 vaccines could help restart stalled dialogue between North Korea and the United States and allies.
It was unclear whether the outbreak would change the North’s stance on humanitarian aid.
Turkmenistan and several small island nations such as Tuvalu and Nauru had also reported no coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
North Korea had enforced some of the world’s toughest restrictions to contain the virus.
In 2020, it established a buffer zone along the border with China and issued a shoot-down order to stop unauthorized crossings, according to South Korean and US officials. Also this year, when a man defected from South Korea to the north, North Korea declared a national emergency over fears he might have brought the virus.
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