North Korea reports positive covid case for first time

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TOKYO — North Korea reported its first coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began nearly two years ago on Thursday, with state media declaring it a “most serious national emergency.”

The detection of the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus in the capital, Pyongyang, is a concerning development for a country which has a fragile health system, brewing a humanitarian crisis and remains one of only two countries in the world at n have not administered any coronavirus vaccines.

Experts warn that North Korea risks becoming the epicenter of new variants due to low population immunity to the virus.

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Until today, North Korea maintained that it had no positive cases, although many experts doubted the veracity of this claim. The announcement, however, suggests that the circumstances of this outbreak warranted a public admission.

North Korean state media said tests were carried out on Sunday on a group of people from an unknown organization in Pyongyang who showed symptoms of fever. The results then indicated that they were infected with the BA.2 subvariant.

North Korea was already under a strict pandemic lockdown, banning tourists, diplomats, aid workers and most overland trade with China. On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tightened border controls, ordering all cities and counties to be locked down. State media called the outbreak “the most serious national emergency.”

NKNews, a Seoul-based website focused on monitoring North Korea, reported this week that residents of Pyongyang had been ordered to self-quarantine, after being warned of a “national problem”. Individuals told the outlet there were panic buying and supply shortages as residents feared a prolonged lockdown in the capital.

In recent weeks, North Korean state media has repeatedly warned against taking greater precautions amid outbreaks along its border with China, urging the public to “strengthen anti-terrorism work.” -epidemic in view of the protracted emergency”.

The Politburo blamed the epidemic sector’s “negligence, laxity, irresponsibility and incompetence” for the outbreak, according to state media. Although Kim has at times been open about his regime’s failures and problems, such as admitting to the country’s “food crisis”, it is notable that North Korea admits shortcomings in its anti-virus measures.

On Thursday, Kim warned against any further failures and called for greater vigilance along its border with China. He said the North Korean public had already endured a “protracted emergency anti-virus fight” and would overcome the crisis.

“What is more dangerous for us than the virus is unscientific fear, lack of confidence and will,” Kim said, according to state media.

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Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul, said while this is unlikely to be North Korea’s first case of coronavirus, it may have been the occasion for Kim to highlight his efforts to control the virus – especially given the reports already circulating about the Pyongyang lockdown.

“I think the main reason the regime officially recognizes the existence of covid in the country is because it happened in Pyongyang and the regime knows the world will find out sooner or later,” Go said. It’s probably more about demonstrating control than screaming for help.”

Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected offers of millions of doses from a United Nations-backed global vaccination effort. North Korea’s strict border lockdown, which only allows a minimal level of trade with China, has exacerbated the country’s food crisis, according to the United Nations.

Kee Park, a global health expert at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, called on the international community to help North Korea respond to the breach, including with offers of vaccines and mRNA therapies.

“They should reconsider additional measures to protect their population, including nationwide vaccination programs,” Park said. “It is in everyone’s interest to help North Korea respond to the breach. Nobody wants another variant.

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