North Korea has imposed a nationwide lockdown after confirming its first COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.
Infections caused by the BA.2 sub-variant of the highly transmissible omicron strain were detected in the capital Pyongyang on May 8, state media reported on Thursday.
Authorities did not specify the number of cases but termed the outbreak a “grave situation,” according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
A government meeting chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered “maximum emergency” control measures “to cope with the prevailing epidemic prevention crisis.”
The outbreak raises fears for a country that had been one of just a few not to report any cases since the pandemic began more than two years ago.
North Korea’s prevention strategy relied on a complete border shutdown since January 2020. The World Health Organization has no records of any COVID-19 vaccinations in the country of 25 million, with Pyongyang having turned down repeated offers of vaccine supplies from the international community.
At the meeting, officials criticized the department in charge of North Korea’s pandemic response for its “carelessness, relaxation, irresponsibility and inefficiency.”
However, Kim vowed to overcome the crisis, ordering “all cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas … to flawlessly and perfectly block the spread vacuum of the malicious virus,” the KCNA said.
He directed authorities to “mobilize reserve medical supplies stored up for the emergency until now,” while also calling for steps to “minimize inconveniences” for citizens.