North Korea reports its first Covid cases

SEOUL – North Korea reported its first coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, declaring a “maximum emergency” and ordering all its cities and counties to close to combat the spread.

On Sunday, health officials tested residents at an unidentified organization in Pyongyang, the capital, which showed symptoms such as fever, and confirmed that they were infected with a sub-variant, known as BA.2, of the Omicron variant of the virus, the Northern virus said the official Korean central news agency. The news agency did not disclose how many people were infected.

The report was the first time the secret country has confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the virus emerged in neighboring China more than two years ago.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un summoned the Political Bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party on Thursday to discuss the crisisthe news agency said.

Mr. Kim has ordered “all cities and counties to shut down completely” to help prevent the spread of the virus and that workers and farmers continue to work but in isolation.

The news agency said Kim also called for national unity in a time of state emergency, telling his people that “a worse enemy than the harmful virus is unscientific fear and a lack of faith and will.”

Mr. Kim urged his country to continue to push ahead with the bold five-year economic development plan he declared at a Workers’ Party conference in January last year. Under that plan, the North Koreans built residential districts in Pyongyang and greenhouse complexes in the provinces.

Until Thursday, North Korea publicly insisted there were no cases of the virus in the country, although outside experts were. skeptical, citing the country’s unstable public health system and lack of thorough testing. North Korea has also rejected external offers of humanitarian aid related to the pandemic.

South Korean officials hope that humanitarian shipments, such as Covid-19 vaccines, can help restart the stalled dialogue between North Korea, the United States and allies.

It was unclear whether the outbreak would change the North’s stance on humanitarian aid.

Turkmenistan and several small island nations, such as Tuvalu and Nauru, also reported no cases of coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

North Korea has imposed some of the toughest restrictions in the world to contain the virus.

In 2020, it created a buffer zone along the border with China, issuing a shoot-to-kill order to stop unauthorized crossings, according to South Korean and US officials. Even that year, when a man from South Korea he deserted to the North, North Korea declared a national emergency for fear that it might have brought the virus.

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