North Korea acknowledged this Thursday (05.12.2022) its first outbreak of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and declared a “serious national emergency” before which the dictator Kim Jong Un ordered confinements throughout the country.
Until now, the impoverished nuclear-armed nation had not admitted any cases of coronavirus and had imposed a strict foreign blockade since the beginning of 2020 that sank its economy and trade.
But samples taken from several ill patients with fever in Pyongyang on Sunday were “consistent” with the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, the official KCNA news agency said.
Kim “called on all cities and municipalities in the country to carefully confine their areas,” state news agency KCNA said. Factories, businesses and homes must be closed and reorganized to “immaculately block the spread of the malicious virus,” the regime leader added.
Experts believe North Korea has not vaccinated any of its 26 million people after rejecting offers of doses from the World Health Organization, China and Russia.
During a meeting of the ruling party’s Politburo, Kim called on officials to stabilize transmissions and eliminate the source of infection as quickly as possible.
The announcement of the infections by Pyongyang came after NK News, a South Korean portal for North Korea-focused news, cited unnamed sources as saying authorities had imposed a lockdown on residents of the North Korean capital.
The South Korean government said it could not confirm the report, and the extent of the outbreak in the North was not immediately clear.
The North is likely to double down on lockdowns, though China’s failure in its “zero-COVID” policy suggests that approach doesn’t work against the fast-moving omicron variant, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in New York. Seoul.
“For Pyongyang to publicly admit to omicron cases, the public health situation must be serious,” Easley said.
Coronavirus is the new threat
“This does not mean that North Korea is suddenly opening up to humanitarian aid and embracing Washington and Seoul. But the Kim regime’s internal public may be less interested in nuclear or missile tests when the urgent threat is the coronavirus and not a foreign army,” Easley added.
Experts have predicted that a major outbreak of COVID-19 would be devastating in North Korea, due to the poor health care system, and could trigger instability if combined with other problems such as severe food shortages.
North Korea’s earlier claim to be coronavirus-free had been disputed by many foreign experts. But South Korean officials have said North Korea has so far avoided a major outbreak, in part because it instituted strict controls on the virus.
In early 2020, before the coronavirus spread across the globe, Pyongyang took harsh measures to keep the virus at bay, describing them as a matter of “national existence,” including halting cross-border traffic and trade for two years, further shocking an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and sanctions.
jc (ap, afp)