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N Korea in lockdown with first official Covid-19 cases

N Korea in lockdown with first official Covid-19 cases

North Korea confirmed its first-ever Covid cases on Thursday (May 12) and declared a "serious emergency", with leader Kim Jong Un ordering lockdowns across the country. The nuclear-armed country had never admitted to a case of Covid-19 and the government had imposed a rigid coronavirus blockade of its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020. But samples taken from patients sick with fever in Pyongyang "coincided with Omicron BA.2 variant", the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korea has ordered a strict national lockdown after confirming its first official Covid infections. State media have reported an Omicron outbreak in the capital Pyongyang but did not state the number of cases.

KCNA said it was "the biggest emergency incident" that breached the country's "quarantine front", and that leader Kim Jong-un was in emergency talks to prepare the nation's response.

But observers believe the virus has long been present in the country.

North Korea has not administered a Covid-19 vaccine programme to its population, having rejected offers made to it of both the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine and AstraZeneca jabs.

The nation had aimed to keep out the virus by keeping its borders closed since the start of the pandemic, leading to a dire economic situation and food shortages as the flow of essential supplies to the impoverished country was greatly reduced.

There have been signs that the virus may have already made its way in.

Since the start of the pandemic there have been several unconfirmed reports of Covid cases in the country. Neighbours China and South Korea have also both seen outbreaks, and China is currently struggling to contain Omicron waves.

In June last year state media reported that Mr Kim had berated top officials over a "grave incident" related to Covid, but did not specify details.

Later in September, the state held a military parade featuring lines of soldiers wearing hazmat suits and masks, which some analysts saw as a sign that a special force was created to help prevent the spread of Covid.