Only now is North Korea admitting its first cases of COVID-19 in the country. The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) says test samples collected on Sunday, May 8 from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron virus, known as BA.2.
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'The biggest emergency incident in the country'
The size of the outbreak is not yet known. KCNA said:
There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020.
As a result, the country's leader Kim Jong Unhas ordered the country to 'strictly lock down' and has mobilised emergency reserve medical supplies. He also called a crisis meeting with the Politburo,where KCNA reported that officials said:
The state epidemic prevention work shall be switched over to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system.
KCNA also reported that Mr Kim said:
The goal was to eliminate the root within the shortest period of time.
Single-minded public unity is the most powerful guarantee that can win in this anti-pandemic fight.
The outbreak could have devastating consequences for a country that closed its borders for two years, has a poor health care system, and rejected offers from the international communityto supply millions of vaccinations last year.
As a result, its 26 million people are thought to be largely unvaccinated. It is thought that North Korea possibly refused the UN-backed COVAX distribution programme as administering the vaccines would requireinternational monitoring.
Why are they admitting an outbreak now?
After previously claiming a perfect record in keeping COVID out, which was widely doubted by experts, questions are being raised as to why they’re finally admitting an outbreak now. Some analysts suggest that the reason may be that they’re seeking international aid.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the regime’s public acknowledgement of coronavirus cases meant 'the public health situation must be serious.'
South Korea's government said it has renewed its offer of humanitarian assistance to the North in response to the news of the outbreak, however, Pyongyang has not yet responded. Easley said that despite the seriousness of the situation:
This does not mean North Korea is suddenly going to be open to humanitarian assistance and take a more conciliatory line toward Washington and Seoul.
Easley also believes the presence of the virus could impact any plans the leadership has for missile or nuclear tests. He said:
The Kim regime’s domestic audience may be less interested in nuclear or missile tests when the urgent threat involves coronavirus rather than a foreign military. The Kim regime would be well advised to swallow its pride and quickly seek donations of vaccines and therapeutics.