It’s unclear how many infections have been detected but state-run news agency KCNA reported on Thursday that cases of the Omicron variant had been found in the capital Pyongyang.
Samples collected from a group of people experiencing fevers on May 8 tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant, KCNA reported.
North Korea had not previously acknowledged any coronavirus cases, though few believe that a country of around 25 million people has been spared by a virus that has infected millions worldwide.
On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered lockdown measures in all cities and directed the distribution of medical supplies the party had reportedly stocked in case of a Covid emergency, according to KCNA.
Kim also chaired a meeting of the country’s powerful politburo, which agreed to implement “maximum” emergency anti-epidemic measures, though it is unclear what they involve.
According to KCNA, the politburo criticized the country’s anti-epidemic sector for “carelessness, laxity, irresponsibility and incompetence,” saying it “failed to respond sensitively” to increasing Covid-19 cases across the world, including in neighboring regions.
Kim said the country would overcome the “unexpected Covid-19 outbreak,” KCNA reported.
North Korea’s borders have been sealed since January 2020 to keep the virus at bay, despite the knock-on effects on trade with Beijing, an economic lifeline the impoverished country needs to keep its people from going hungry.
Zero vaccines could spell disaster
Also in February, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea Tomás Ojea Quintana called on the international community to provide North Korea “with 60 million doses of vaccinations to cover at least two shots of the entire population.”
But the US and Hong Kong have robust health systems. An outbreak in North Korea, which has limited testing capabilities, inadequate medical infrastructure, and which has isolated itself from the outside world, could quickly become deadly.