North Korea raised coronavirus prevention measures Thursday as leader Kim Jong Un acknowledged for the first time that COVID-19 was spreading in the totalitarian nation.
An unspecified number of Pyongyang residents tested positive for the omicron variant, leading to a nationwide lockdown, according to the country’s state news agency.
Until Thursday, North Korea had said it was virus-free since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago, a claim that was dismissed as propaganda by most outside experts. The North shares an 880-mile border with China, the virus’ country of origin.
The isolated nation had shunned offers of vaccines from a United Nations distributor, leaving most of the country’s 26 million citizens unvaccinated, observers believe.
“The single-minded public unity is the most powerful guarantee that can win in this anti-pandemic fight,” Kim said as he and top ruling party leaders moved to step up unspecified anti-virus measures, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The announcement came after NK News, an American site based in Seoul and dedicated to North Korean news, reported the nation had “abruptly ordered” residents indoors Tuesday due to a “national problem.”
South Korea could not independently confirm the report of the lockdown.
North Korea had been one of the last places on Earth to report a case to the World Health Organization. The authoritarian Asian nation of Turkmenistan still claims to have had no cases.
South Korea has said that its northern neighbor had most likely avoided a large outbreak due to severe pandemic measures that were instituted early in 2020.
The North had halted trade and cross border traffic for two years, banned travel between provinces, enacted mass quarantines and executed a suspected smuggler.
It reopened freight traffic between border town Sinuiju and China’s Dandong in January, but that trade was halted last month as COVID-19 spread in Dandong.
Experts fear a large COVID-19 outbreak would have a disastrous effect on the country, which is plagued by poor health care, and reeling from serious food shortages exacerbated by the pandemic trade embargo and US military sanctions.
With AP wires