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Kim Jong Un declares 'biggest emergency incident' as North Korea reports first COVID cases

North Korea announced its first COVID infection, and Kim Jong Un ordered a tight lockdown as a response.

The extent of the outbreak was not immediately known. However, KNCA confirmed that test samples taken from a number of people in Pyongyang on Sunday proved they were infected by the Omicron variant.

According to state media, the outbreak was called the “biggest emergency in North Korea“. Mr Kim ordered all the countries and regions of the country “strictly lock down”, with emergency supplies mobilised.

“The state epidemic prevention work shall now be transferred to the maximum emergency epidemic control system,” KCNA stated.


KCNA reported that Mr Kim stated “unique-minded public unity” during a meeting of the Politburo ruling party.

The first admission of infected persons demonstrates the danger of a crisis in a country that refuses to receive international assistance with vaccination and has closed its borders.

Because of the poor health system in the country, and 26 million people who are not vaccinated, this outbreak could have grave consequences.

More information on Covid-19

Outside experts have doubted the claim that North Korea has a perfect record of keeping COVID out.

Analysts believe that the North may seek outside help because of its occasional admission of an epidemic.

North Korea’s COVID approach so far

North Korea closed its borders to almost all visitors and trade for two years in order to prevent the virus from reaching its territory. This shocked an already devastated economy that had been hit hard by US-led sanctions regarding its missile programme and nuclear weapons.

North Korea reopened railroad freight traffic between Sinuiju, its border town, and China’s Dandong in January. However, China announced that it would not allow the trade to continue as it has a wide range of cases in Dandong.

The worst COVID disasters could still be yet to come

Tom Cheshire

Asia correspondent


North Korea could be in serious trouble.

We have seen the results of Omicron whipping through low-vaccination populations – just take a look at the recent fatalities in Hong Kong.

The elderly in Hong Kong were not vaccinated at a high rate.

However, North Korea does not appear to have any vaccination rates.

Offers from China and COVAX were rejected by the company, stating that the doses should go to countries with greater need.

It might find itself in dire need. Kim’s regime relied on strict border controls to keep the virus away – the country is now isolated from the rest the world since 2020.

Omicron, as it did elsewhere, found a way.

North Korea’s only option is lockdown, which it can enforce very strictly.

Shanghai’s experience shows that it can be difficult to lock down Omicron.

North Korea is missing the infrastructure to deliver goods that Shanghai has barely maintained.

The worst COVID catastrophes could still be coming two and a half decades after the pandemic.

The latest data from the World Health Organisation shows that 64,207 North Koreans over 24.7m received COVID testing. All were negative at 31 March.

The UN-backed COVAX distribution program has been blocked in the country. This suggests that no civilians have been vaccinated.

South Korea-based monitoring site for Pyongyang activities reported this week that residents were told to return home and stay indoors due to a “national issue” but did not provide details.


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