North Korean authorities have ordered a five-day lockdown in the capital, Pyongyang, amid an increase in unspecified respiratory illnesses, according to Russian diplomats and a Seoul-based news outlet.
NK News, a publication with sources in North Korea, first reported the lockdown, saying Pyongyang residents are required to stay in their homes and undergo mandatory temperature checks from Wednesday through Sunday.
A North Korean government notice announcing the lockdown did not mention COVID-19, NK News said. It is not clear whether the lockdown included areas beyond Pyongyang.
In a Facebook post, the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang confirmed a “special anti-epidemic period” was declared in the city due to a recent spike in the seasonal flu and “other respiratory diseases.”
The Russian statement, which cited an order from North Korea’s State Emergency Anti-epidemic Command, said the lockdown would last through Sunday but could be extended for three more days, depending on the situation.
North Korea, which lacks medical resources and suffers from widespread poverty, is thought to be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic. However, it is difficult to judge the country’s pandemic response so far.
For the first two years of the pandemic, North Korea denied experiencing any COVID-19 infections. It finally reported cases in May but declared victory over the virus three months later.
Most health experts questioned that claim, saying that even the North Korean government is likely unaware of the virus’ spread, due to its lack of testing supplies.
In September, North Korea hinted that a COVID-19 vaccination campaign would soon begin but has reported no further details.
Some experts say it is plausible North Korea escaped the worst of the pandemic, since the country acted quickly to close its borders after the coronavirus emerged in neighboring China in early 2020.
North Korea’s authoritarian government also has a much higher degree of social control than almost any other country.