After over two years of coronavirus pandemic, North Korea on Thursday confirmed first-ever outbreak of Covid-19, compelling the authorities to declare a severe national emergency. While the world reeled under rising coronavirus cases, North Korea maintained that no cases had been reported since it imposed strict coronavirus blockade along its borders in March 2020. How the situation unfolds over the next few weeks will be important for North Korea since the country, under Kim Jong Un's rule, has refused vaccination for its population of 25 million.
Now, an Omicron outbreak has been reported from the capital city Pyongyang, even though the number of the cases hasn't been confirmed.
Here is all you need to know about the outbreak of Covid-19 in North Korea:
What measures has the govt taken?
A strict lockdown has been imposed in North Korea. According to AFP, areas of Pyongyang had been paced locked down for two days already. "Multiple sources have also heard reports of panic buying due to uncertainty of when the lockdown might end," Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported, citing sources.
Kim Jong Un joined some top officials in a meeting to discuss the unfolding Covid-19 situation and announced "maximum emergency" virus control system would be implemented.
Kim told the meeting that "the goal was to eliminate the root within the shortest period of time, Korea Central News Agency said.
The KCNA said that Kim had ordered "maximum emergency" virus controls, implying lockdowns and cap on gatherings, particularly in workplaces.
Did North Korea escape the pandemic for 2 years?
Though North Korea said the blockade of the borders in January 2020 had helped keep the country safe from Covid-19, experts and analysts have disputed the claims. A report in the Daily NK, a South Korean news outlet, said that 180 North Korean soldiers succumbed to Covid-19 and 3700 others were put under quarantine between January and February 2020.
Reports in October 2020 also quoted South Korea's government-backed Yonhap News Agency saying that around 10,000 people were quarantined.
In August last year, the World Health Organisation in its weekly report had said some 37,291 people with flu-like symptoms were tested for Covid-19 but were found to be negative.
What about vaccinations?
Owing to North Korean leadership's refusal to acknowledge the presence of Covid-19 in the country, preventive measures like vaccination have not been implemented. Experts have warned that the refusal to vaccinate the residents can cause problem for North Korea, which even rejected offers other countries from the international community to supply millions of AstraZeneca and Chinese-made Sinovac jabs last year.
In September 2021, the United Nations said that North Korea asked that almost three million Covid-19 vaccines offered to it be redirected elsewhere. It had asked the jabs to be given to those countries that were hit hard by the pandemic and faced vaccine shortage.
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