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North Korea shifts to ‘maximum emergency’

Some 30 months after the coronavirus was first identified, North Korea has – for the first time – publicly admitted to having a COVID case within its borders. This presents a severe challenge for the dictator-run nation, which remains ‘completely unvaccinated’.

North Korea declares first COVID case – here are the details

Kim Jong Un’s administration declared it’s ‘first case’ – which gets the inverted commas treatment due to North Korea’s difficult relationship with the truth – in the early hours of Thursday. This is now likely to lead to a lockdown MORE extreme than the ones seen in China.

Samples taken from patients sick with fever in Pyongyang “coincided with Omicron BA.2 variant”, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

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

What is a maximum emergency?

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 epidemic prevention system”.


Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP that a lockdown in North Korea will be incredibly brutal:

“For Pyongyang to publicly admit omicron cases, the public health situation must be serious. Kim will likely double down on lockdowns, even though the failure of China’s zero-Covid strategy suggests that approach won’t work against the Omicron variant.”

Leif-Eric Easley

‘Totally unvaccinated’ North Korea exposed to Omicron

North Korea has turned down offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organization, and China and Russia. Accepting vaccines through the WHO’s Covax scheme requires transparency over how vaccines are distributed.

Kim Jong Un, not exactly a fan of public scrutiny, did not want the intrusion. That’s now led to the most isolated country world being hit by an extremely transmissible COVID variant, without any immunisation against it. North Korea now stands on the brink of disaster.

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