North Korea ordered a strict national lockdown after reporting the first official cases of covid in the country.
State media reported an omicron outbreak in the capital, Pyongyang, but did not specify the number of cases.
The government of Pyongyang has rejected all kinds of vaccination programeven despite the offer of other countries.
Instead, it decided to try to control contagion by sealing its borders and so far had not officially registered any cases, although experts believe that the virus has been present in the country for a long time.
Experts say North Korea’s population of 25 million is in a vulnerable situation as the leadership has refused to run a covid-19 vaccine program, even rejecting offers from the international community to supply millions of AstraZeneca injections. and Sinovac, the Chinese-made immunization, last year.
There is also concern about the North Korea’s impoverished health system.
The state news agency, KCNA, said Kim Jong-un had pledged to eradicate the outbreak by ordering “maximum emergency” checks against the virus, which had breached the country’s “quarantine front”.
But North Korea’s strategy of fighting Covid by closing its borders – one of the first countries to do so, in January 2020 – has also prevented essential supplies from entering the hermetic nation, leading to food shortages and a economy in crisis.
As announced Thursday by KCNA, Kim’s order appears to include localized lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings at workplaces.
The state media added that the first case of the omicron variant was detected in Pyongyang four days ago.
Residents in certain areas of the capital had been under lockdown for at least two days before the announcement, according to NK News, a monitoring site in Seoul.
For its part, the South Korean government said it had once again offered humanitarian assistance to its northern neighbor in response to news of the outbreak. Pyongyang has not yet responded.
Analysis by Jean Mackenzie, BBC correspondent in Seoul
For more than two years, North Korea has suspiciously claimed that it had not had a single case of covid-19. So why is he acknowledging it now?
Most likely it is due to East outbreak it’s too much serious and hard to hide.
North Korea has been consistent in its public commitment to fighting the virus. That was the reason with which it justified the closure of its borders for so long. Now that omicron has penetrated their territory, the challenge will be to limit its spread.
Without vaccinations, poor health care, and a limited ability to test its population, North Korea’s options are currently very slim.
The authorities have clearly decided that they have no choice but to submit to the country into confinement. To achieve this, they will simply tell the people and the rest of the world.
That does not necessarily mean that they are now willing to accept outside help.
Missile tests in the face of the covid outbreak
Analysts initially viewed Pyongyang’s announcement on Covid cases as significant at this time and could obstruct the state’s nuclear ambitions, demonstrated several times this year.
But hours after Thursday’s announcement, North Korea launched an “unidentified” ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
North Korea has claimed to have conducted more than a dozen missile tests that it is banned from, including one with an intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon it had not tested in more than four years.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told the AFP news agency that Pyongyang could shelve plans nuclear tests to focus on fighting the outbreak. However, if public fears grow, Kim could take the test to “deflect that fear elsewhere.”
For Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University, the North Koreans “might be less interested in nuclear or missile tests when the urgent threat has to do with coronavirus rather than a foreign military.”
According to the professor, Pyongyang “would probably redouble” its confinement measures, given that it was entering a “period of uncertainty in handling its internal challenges and international isolation.”
Despite North Korea’s claims that it had been “dazzlingly successful” in keeping the coronavirus at bay, there have been signs during the pandemic of the potential presence of the virus in the country. There were several unconfirmed reports of previous covid cases.
In June last year, state media reported that Kim Jong-un had punished officials about a “serious incident” related to covid, but did not give specific details.
Then, in September, the government held a military parade with rows of soldiers dressed in protective suits and masks, which some analysts interpreted as a sign that they had created a special force to prevent the spread of covid.
North Korea shares land borders with South Korea and China, which have faced various buds. China is struggling to contain a wave of omicrons with lockdown orders in its major cities, including Shanghai.
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