North Korea: 'First' Covid cases prompt strict national lockdown

May 13, 2022 6:00 am

[Source: BBC News]

North Korea has ordered a strict national lockdown after confirming its first official Covid infections.

State media have reported an Omicron outbreak in the capital, Pyongyang, but did not state the number of cases.

North Korea has rejected any kind of vaccine programme, even when offered a supply by other countries.

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Instead, it controlled Covid by sealing its borders – and had never recorded a case, despite experts believing the virus has long been present.

Outsiders say the nation’s 25 million population is vulnerable due to the lack of a Covid-19 vaccine programme, even rejecting offers from the international community to supply millions of AstraZeneca and Chinese-made Sinovac jabs last year.

There have also been concerns about North Korea’s impoverished healthcare system.

KCNA said leader Kim Jong-un had vowed to eradicate the outbreak, which it called a “severe national emergency” that had breached the country’s “quarantine front”.

At the meeting outlining the new Covid rules, Mr Kim was seen wearing a face mask on television for what is believed to be the first time. He soon removed it, while other officials present kept theirs on.

For more than two years, North Korea has, rather dubiously, claimed not to have a single case of Covid-19. So why admit to it now?

Most likely it is because this outbreak is too serious and too difficult to hide.

North Korea has been consistent in its public commitment to fighting the virus. This is how it has justified closing its borders for so long. Now that Omicron has entered the country, the challenge is to limit its spread.

With no vaccines, poor healthcare and a limited capacity to test people, North Korea’s options are very limited right now.

Authorities have clearly decided they have no choice but to put the country into lockdown. In order to do this, they simply have to tell people and the rest of the world.

It does not necessarily mean they will be any more willing to accept outside help.