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North Korea Confirms Its First Detection of COVID-19


An employee cleans a surface as part of preventative measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Pyongyang Children's Department Store in Pyongyang on March 18, 2022.

North Korea, which has largely kept its borders shuttered over the pandemic, Thursday confirmed its first detection of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the country.

According to the official Korea Central News Agency, samples were taken from a group of people in the capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday. A rigorous genetic sequence analysis found that the results were consistent with the virus BA.2. The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 is unknown.

It marks the first time North Korea has acknowledged a case of COVID-19 since it closed its borders in February 2020 and instituted its own quarantine measures amid the global pandemic spread.

North Korea's Politburo meets in response to the COVID-19 crisis, in May 2022. (Korean Central News Agency)
North Korea's Politburo meets in response to the COVID-19 crisis, in May 2022. (Korean Central News Agency)

A Politburo meeting was held in response to the “most critical emergency,” at which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered a lockdown in all cities and counties, directing businesses and production facilities to operate in isolation to completely block the spread of the “malicious virus.”

He said the party and government will mobilize medical supplies that have been stockpiled in anticipation of such an emergency, state media reported. He ordered border, sea and air defenses to be strengthened.

More dangerous than the virus, Kim alleged, was the “unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will.” He added that the state would win the “current sudden situation” given its strong ability to organize and praised the people’s awareness “cemented during the prolonged emergency epidemic prevention campaign.”

North Korea has not likely vaccinated most of its 26 million people, if any. State media outlets have not reported any vaccination efforts. The United Nations’ COVAX program confirmed earlier this month that it had reallocated its vaccines earmarked for North Korea to other countries, after Pyongyang failed to accept the supply for months.