North Korea reports Covid outbreak, declares emergency

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North Korea has confirmed its first-ever case of Covid-19 and declared a "severe national emergency". KIM Won Jin/AFP/File

North Korea has confirmed its first-ever case of Covid-19 and declared a “severe national emergency”, with leader Kim Jong Un vowing to “eliminate” the virus, state media said on May 12.

The impoverished, nuclear-armed country has never admitted to a case of Covid-19, with the government imposing a rigid coronavirus blockade of its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

But samples taken from patients sick with fever in the capital were “consistent with” the virus’ highly transmissible Omicron variant, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Top officials, including leader Kim Jong-un, held a crisis politburo meeting to discuss the outbreak and announced they would implement a “maximum emergency” virus control system.

Kim told the meeting that “the goal was to eliminate the root within the shortest period of time,” according to KCNA.

“He assured us that because of the people’s high political awareness . . . we will surely overcome the emergency and win the emergency quarantine project,” it said.

Kim called for tighter border controls and lockdown measures, telling citizens “to completely block the spread of the malicious virus by thoroughly blocking their areas in all cities and counties across the country”.

All business and production activities will be organised so each work unit is “isolated” to prevent the spread of disease, KCNA added.

Experts believe North Korea has not vaccinated any of its 25 million people, having rejected offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organisation, and China and Russia.

North Korea’s crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak, experts have said.

North Korea is surrounded by countries that have battled – or are still fighting to control – significant outbreaks of Omicron.

South Korea, which has high rates of vaccination, has recently eased almost all Covid-19 restrictions, with cases sharply down after an Omicron-fuelled spike in March.

Neighbouring China, the world’s only major economy to still maintain a zero-Covid policy, is battling multiple Omicron outbreaks.

Major Chinese cities, including the financial capital Shanghai, have been under strict lockdowns for weeks.