North Korea reports its first COVID-19 case

North Korea has identified its first ever case of COVID-19, according to state media, which called the situation a “major national emergency”.

It’s unclear how many infections have been detected but state-run news agency KCNA reported today that cases of the Omicron variant had been found in the capital Pyongyang.

Samples collected from a group of people experiencing fevers on May 8 tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant, KCNA reported.

Employees spray disinfectant and wipe surfaces as part of preventative measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Pyongyang Children’s Department Store in Pyongyang. (Getty)

An outbreak of COVID-19 could prove dire for North Korea.

The country’s dilapidated health care infrastructure is unlikely to be up to the task of treating a large number of patients with a highly infectious disease.

North Korea had not previously acknowledged any coronavirus cases, though few believe that a country of around 25 million people has been spared by a virus that has infected millions worldwide.

Today, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered lockdown measures in all cities and directed the distribution of medical supplies the party had reportedly stocked in case of a COVID emergency, according to KCNA.

Kim also chaired a meeting of the country’s powerful politburo, which agreed to implement “maximum” emergency anti-epidemic measures, though it is unclear what they involve.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang. (AP)

According to KCNA, the politburo criticised the country’s anti-epidemic sector for “carelessness, laxity, irresponsibility and incompetence,” saying it “failed to respond sensitively” to increasing COVID-19 cases across the world, including in neighbouring regions.

Kim said the country would overcome the “unexpected COVID-19 outbreak,” KCNA reported.

To date, North Korea has been able to prevent a major outbreak of COVID-19 cases thanks to a series of draconian public health measures.

North Korea’s borders have been sealed since January 2020 to keep the virus at bay, despite the knock-on effects on trade with Beijing, an economic lifeline the impoverished country needs to keep its people from going hungry.

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Isolated and impoverished North Korea is not known to have imported any coronavirus vaccines, though it is eligible for the global COVID-19 vaccine sharing program, Covax.

In February, Covax reportedly scaled back the number of doses allocated to North Korea because the country failed to arrange for any shipments, according to Reuters.

Also in February, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea Tom├ís Ojea Quintana called on the international community to provide North Korea “with 60 million doses of vaccinations to cover at least two shots of the entire population.”

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